by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:WASHINGTON —
Despite the scandal over a series of deaths at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, a review by Channel 2 Action News shows the hospital isn't short on cash.
The federal government is being strangled by a budget crisis, except the VA and its medical centers nationwide, including the VA medical center in DeKalb County.
Data provided to Channel 2 Action News sources show the Atlanta region's VA offices got a $100 million funding increase for 2013.
There were similar boosts nationwide, perhaps a necessity with so many new veterans needing treatment, after a decade fighting two wars.
How are they using the money? At least some is being earmarked to reduce the crushing backlog of veterans' claims.
The VA told Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane it's setting aside money for overtime pay and extra claims officers to reduce the waits.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs told Channel 2, “Under the leadership of Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, the Department of Veterans Affairs has increased Veterans’ access to earned care and benefits, reduced the number of homeless Veterans by 17 percent, and implemented an aggressive plan that eliminates the decades old compensation claims backlog in 2015.”
A Channel 2 investigation found the agency has also been spending big bucks on travel and conferences for its own employees and execs, totaling $66 million last year alone.
That money also includes $1 million to bring employees to Atlanta for some conferences in 2011 and 2012.
Former VA administrator Darin Selnick told MacFarlane not all, but some, of the agency's trips have been downright wasteful.
"Too many executives thought of travel and conferences as rewards for being buddies. 'Hey, you've been a good guy. We're going to send you to Orlando, Fla.' It was just a vacation," Selnick said.
Internal investigators who probed the series of patient deaths inside the mental health ward at the Atlanta VA Medical Center indicated money wasn't a problem locally.
Their report said staffing in the unit wasn't inadequate.