VA spent millions on six days of Hawaii games

By |
Photo - Hilton's Hawaiian Village in Honolulu was the site in May 2011 for a six-day event costing more than $2.5 million and hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs featuring games such table tennis, horseshoes and shuffleboard for aging vets. (AP Photo)
Hilton's Hawaiian Village in Honolulu was the site in May 2011 for a six-day event costing more than $2.5 million and hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs featuring games such table tennis, horseshoes and shuffleboard for aging vets. (AP Photo)
News,Watchdog,Mark Flatten,Veterans Affairs

More than $2.5 million was spent last year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on a six-day series of sporting events for aging veterans at a posh Hawaiian resort.

The VA's Golden Age Games in May 2011 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu attracted an estimated 900 veterans who paid their own way and participated in events that included air-rifle shooting, dominoes, table tennis, golf, swimming, horseshoes and shuffleboard.

Instead of spending money on our veterans, VA bureaucrats used taxpayer dollars on plush hotel accommodations at one of Honolulu's most luxurious hotels, - Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-KS

The biggest single expense was more than $1 million for an event planning firm, Alaska Destination Specialists, Inc., based in Anchorage, according to USA Spending.gov and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican who is a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Other major expenses included about $500,000 for rooms and conference space in the hotel, $390,000 for event transportation and $229,000 for gift or meal cards for the participants, according to federal spending records.

The VA is already under congressional scrutiny for spending $5 million last year on a pair of training conferences in Orlando that featured a $52,000 video parody of the movie "Patton" and more than $90,000 for coffee break refreshments.

"Instead of spending money on our veterans, VA bureaucrats used taxpayer dollars on plush hotel accommodations at one of Honolulu's most luxurious hotels," said Huelskamp.

"Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and it sickens me to see their service being disrespected by the one agency specifically tasked with honoring them," he said.

Most of the major expenses were described in the federal database as being for the Golden Age Games in Hawaii, though some charges for the hotel, airline tickets and other smaller items only listed the venue and time frame of the service provided for the VA.

The games are open for U.S. military veterans age 55 and older.

The VA's Secretary, former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki (Ret.), was born and raised in Hawaii, attended the event.

A VA new release quoted him as saying, "I can't think of a more suitable location than Honolulu to hold an event like this that celebrates the accomplishments of our military heroes."

Another top VA official in charge of planning the games was Tammy Duckworth, former assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs and a University of Hawaii graduate.

Duckworth, a disabled helicopter pilot who lost both legs in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, is running for Congress in Illinois. She is scheduled to speak tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Dewayne Vaughan, VA event director for the Golden Age Games, told the Examiner that participants paid for their own hotel rooms.

"Hotel stuff is paid for by the veterans," Vaughan said, adding hotel room costs listed on the USASpending.gov disclosure site are not for agency personnel.

A VA spokeswoman who declined to be named ignored questions about the event's cost, but noted that the games have been held for 25 years and provide recreational therapy and a friendly competitive environment for older patients at VA medical centers.

The games were held in St. Louis this year, and are scheduled for Buffalo, N.Y., in May 2013.

Officials at Alaska Destination Specialists did not respond to telephone or email requests for comment.

Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner's special reporting team. He can be reached at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com.

View article comments Leave a comment