Department of Veteran Affairs spent millions on Florida conferences

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing materials and promotional items for a pair of conferences that cost taxpayers at least $6.1 million.

Included was $50,000 on a parody video of the Oscar-winning movie Patton and a request to have the Washington Redskins cheerleaders appear at a kick-off event.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a staff report Wednesday on the conferences held in 2011 at the “lavish” Marriott World Center Resort in Orlando near Disney World, which the report said included at least $762,000 in unauthorized and wasteful expenses. The VA paid $863 for an employee to operate karaoke equipment and $98,000 on items such as notebooks, water bottles, and “fitness walking kits,” among other materials.

“The VA’s primary mission is to serve the nation’s veterans in the most efficient manner possible,” the report said. “Any money wasted on events unrelated to that mission does a disservice to the veterans that the VA is meant to serve.”

Conference planners initially traveled to Nashville, Dallas, and Orlando to scout potential locations for the conferences. According to the report, the planners improperly accepted gifts from hotels they were considering, including meals, spa treatments, gift baskets, show tickets, and limousine and helicopter rides.

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