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Report: VA mishandled millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds, spent money on other projects

Lawmakers accuse the VA of "waste," "fraud," and "abuse."

WASHINGTON — "A slush fund."

That's the way one lawmaker described how the Department of Veterans Affairs treated millions of dollars in taxpayer money that was supposed to be directed to COVID-19 efforts.

Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday took the VA to task over how the department spent pandemic supplemental appropriations.

They cited a recent VA Inspector General report that showed that the VA spent more than $187 million -- not on COVID-19 treatment of vets-- but on 10,000 unrelated supply purchases and service contracts.

"Even though these funds were specifically for COVID, there were very little rhyme or reason for how the VA spent the money," said the panel's chairman, Rep. Mike Bost, (R-Illinois).

Rep. Mark Takano (D-California) said he was "appalled."

He added: "The lack of transparency and accountability that can be provided to auditors as a result of this failure damages the VA's credibility and invites questions about the extent of the potential waste, fraud and abuse."

The VA's chief financial officer could not answer a single question about how many VA patients or staff contracted COVID-19 or died from it.

VA Assistant Secretary for Management Jon Rychalski repeatedly replied, when asked specifics about vets and COVID-19: "I would have to take that for the record." 

Rep Derrick Van Orden (R) Wisconsin didn't like what he heard.

He said: "OK, sir. These are the most basic metrics you should've showed up to this committee with. This is about whether or not your department spent billions of dollars protecting our veterans. And you can't answer those off the top of your head. That means you are very ill-prepared for this committee meeting. And that is bad."

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