By Johnny Kampis | Watchdog.org
CULLMAN, Ala. — The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System was cited not once, not twice, but three times in a retiring conservative U.S. senator’s annual study on government waste and abuse.
The fifth edition of Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Wastebook” notes such peculiarities as $387,000 spent toward Swedish massages for rabbits, $171,000 to study how monkeys gamble (we hear they love the dice) and $10,000 to literally watch grass grow.
The top issue highlighted in the report from the Oklahoma Republican was “bureaucrats gone wild” who were “punished” with what amounted to paid vacations after engaging in “unacceptable and sometimes criminal conduct.”
It was here the CAVHCS, er, shined with three citations among the dozen examples.
- Coburn noted a VA drug addiction treatment specialist who was busted for helping a patient score illegal drugs at a crack house and solicit a prostitute on March 1, 2013, is still employed at the VA. This despite a VA investigative report that found the employee “endorsed” the patient’s addictions and “interfered” with the patient’s medical treatment plan and exposed him to a “dangerous environment.”
- CAVHCS Director James Talton and Chief of Staff Dr. Cliff Robinson were placed on administrative leave in August after system staff members were accused of falsifying “appointment records to mask how long veterans wait for appointments and not reading hundreds of X-rays.” Talton has implied employees involved in the falsification were terminated, but instead were relieved of their duties while continuing to receive their paychecks.
- A vocational rehabilitation specialist in the mental health department at CAVHCS was indicted for criminally negligent homicide after a passenger in a car he was driving died in a fatal crash in the summer of 2013. The VA employee was allegedly driving drunk, but as of Sept. 2 he continued to be employed and working at CAVHCS.
WHO’S MONKEYING AROUND? A U.S. senator’s annual study of government waste and abuse nails Alabama several times.
A call by Watchdog.org to the Veterans Affairs media relations staff wasn’t immediately returned Thursday.
CAVHCS wasn’t alone among Alabama government entities named in the report. The Gadsden City Council also got a demerit for being among the local governments using Community Development Block Grant program funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to install water playgrounds, better known as splash pads.
Ostensibly, those funds are intended to provide “decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.”
Gadsden had received a $250,000 grant to fix drainage issues at a local park, but built the splash pad instead when council members were informed they had to use the money quickly or lose it.
“This is more in line with what the people want,” Gadsden city councilman Deverick Williams, told the Gadsden Times.
The Wastebook highlights $25 billion in questionable spending, with a list of the 100 “most outlandish government expenditures.”
Coburn wrote that this is merely a fraction of the countless frivolous government-funded projects using tax dollars.
“Every year taxpayers, regardless of their personal political leanings, raise their eyebrows and shake their heads in disbelief at how billions of dollars that could be…better spent — or not spent at all — were squandered,” he wrote.