UPDATE: I-Team 8 spoke with Sen. Donnelly on Wednesday, who informed I-Team 8 that he too had met with VA officials this week to discuss his concerns about the missing medical equipment. His comments are below.”
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In a joint letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Indiana’s two U.S. senators, Todd Young and Joe Donnelly, said they are “troubled” by the findings of a recent I-Team 8 investigation that exposed more than a million dollars’ worth of missing medical equipment had been reported lost from the Indianapolis VA Roudebush Medical Center.
I-Team 8’s investigation found that over the past three years, more than $1.5 million worth of medical equipment has been reported missing, lost or presumed stolen.
VA officials in Washington and Indiana have said that the missing items represent only a small percentage of the total inventory and that $520,000 worth of the missing medical equipment was later recovered.
But in the joint letter to Shulkin, Young and Donnelly write, “Taxpayers remain on the hook for over $992,000 in medical equipment that has disappeared from the Roudebush inventory.”
The letter, dated May 16, also demands answers from the VA Secretary about why the items were lost, what policies are in place to prevent further losses and if any VA employees had been disciplined or reprimanded as a result of I-Team 8’s report:
Misplaced, lost, or stolen medical equipment wastes valuable taxpayer dollars. More importantly, misplaced, lost, or stolen medical equipment undermines the ability of the VA to properly care for our veterans. Full implementation of the real-time location system for medical equipment inventory tracking is therefore essential for the VA.”
“The missing medical equipment situation at Roudebush is unacceptable,” the letter goes on. “Our veterans deserve to know that they will receive the best care and treatment available when they utilize the VA. Taxpayers also deserve to know that their hard-earned dollars are not facilitating waste, fraud and abuse at VA facilities.”
I-Team 8’s investigation also found that items continue to be lost, four years after the VA inked a $543 million contract to install tracking devices on many of these items. To date, the real-time location systems — or RTLS — have been installed in only about a third of VA’s 152 medical centers nationwide, VA officials told I-Team 8 in a recent interview.
The letter went on to say that the Senators were troubled to learn the VA had failed to fully implement the contract, something they called “alarming.”
On Wednesday, I-Team also received internal documents that show there was a stop work order placed on the RTLS contract, but that the matter was later resolved in the fall of 2016. The stop work order could have delayed the advancement of project, sources tell I-Team 8. I-Team 8 reached out to the VA for comment, but questions related to those inquiries have not been returned.
A VA spokeswoman did say that VA Secretary Shulkin had received the Senators’ letter.
“As noted, VA will review and respond to the members directly,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email to I-Team 8.
Young and Donnelly’s letter also follows a meeting Young had Monday with Robert McDivitt, the regional director for VISN 10, which oversees VA facilities in Indiana.
Donnelly told I-Team 8 Wednesday that he too met with VA regional officials.
” I met with the VA yesterday. I met with the VA leadership for our entire state to try to make sure that we have a plan in place that the equipment is all being properly located and (that) it is all being put back in place and that it is done right. Our commitment is that every veteran get the very best healthcare in the system and that’s what our goal is,” Sen. Donnelly said.
Young told I-Team 8 that McDivitt admitted to him that the RTLS program “had not been flawless and was plagued by problems.”
In Indianapolis, less than 10 percent of the items have received so-called “active tags,” which enable VA inventory specialists to locate an item’s exact location. More than 70 percent of the items at the VA Roudebush Medical Center have received “passive tags,” which enable inventory specialists to locate items in a more time-consuming manner by scanning individual rooms for items.
Many veterans interviewed by I-Team 8 expressed concern that their military service instilled in them a regimented lifestyle, where maintaining an accurate inventory was part and parcel of their service. It struck them as ironic that the VA, which serves military members, would struggle to maintain an accurate count of medical equipment.
“It’s not only ironic, it’s unacceptable,” Sen. Young, a former Marine officer, told I-Team 8 during an interview Tuesday morning from Washington.