While 18 Veterans a Day Died From Suicide, Senior VA Officials Spent $274K a Day on Conferences in 2011

WATCHDOG: VA Admits Spending $100 Million on Conferences in 2011

by Mark Flatten
Washington Times, Sept. 20, 2012

W. Todd Grams serves as VA’s financial boss overseeing VA’s $130 billion annual budget, including annual bonuses to VA’s senior executives. For his work, Grams received a 2011 Service to America Medal. Grams testified Sept. 20, 2012, before Congress, revealing VA spent $100 million last year for VA conferences, including a $1 million consulting fee to an Alaska firm to plan an event held in Waikiki, Hawaii last May. Read Todd Grams bio and watch video where he explains his philosophy of serving vets through his position. (Washington Post)

It turns out the Department of Veterans Affairs spent $100 million on conferences last year – not the $20 million it previously claimed – and it didn’t account for that money to a Congressional committee demanding details, either.

The $100 million figure was confirmed Thursday by Todd Grams, the VA’s chief financial officer, under grilling from impatient members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs about why they can’t seem to get straight answers from the agency.

It’s been more than a month since the committee’s chairman and ranking member sent a letter to the VA seeking an explanation for the widely-varied estimates of how much was spent on conferences last year. VA officials had put the figure between $20 million and $100 million.

Grams said the lower estimate did not include travel costs, which account for about 80 percent of conference expenses. So, while the conferences themselves may have cost about $20 million, getting employees to them raised the tab to $100 million, he said.

Even that morsel of information did not come easily.

Scott Gould, the VA’s deputy secretary of veterans affairs, initially tried to dodge questions from Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, about when committee members could expect detailed information on conference spending that they have requested.

VA continues to be tone deaf to the fiscal difficulties this country is facing. I am extremely frustrated by the VA’s lack of transparency, accountability and stewardship of funding entrusted to its officials

— Congressman Jeff Miller, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman

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