Updated: Examiner questions the VA won't answer about Hawaii event

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Watchdog,Veterans Affairs

The following is the complete text of the questions sent by reporter Mark Flatten of the Washington Examiner to the Department of Veterans' Affairs' press office on Sept. 5, followed by the response the VA provided on Sept. 13.

The questions:

"I have some unanswered questions regarding the Golden Age Games and still need an explanation:

"1) How many VA employees attended the games in Hawaii? Aside from the Secretary and Tammy Duckworth, who were the others at the level of deputy, assistant or undersecretary who attended? How many days were the Secretary and Ms. Duckworth in Hawaii for the games?

"2) What were the half-million dollars in hotel charges for? Though Dewayne would not do an interview, he did say that participants paid for their own rooms and airfare. USASpending does not show the hotel reimbursed the VA, as it would have done if the money was only to reserve rooms for the participants. So unless there was a large VA contingent, what was purchased with the money to the hotel that shows up in USASpending?

"3) How many internal planners does VA have for the games and/or other similar events such as conferences? If VA has an internal planning staff, what did Alaska Destination Specialists do for $1 million related to this event, as USAspending reports?

"4) What were the agency's total costs for the event in St. Louis, and its budget for the Buffalo games?

"5) How many VA personnel attended the games in St. Louis?

"6) What was the VA's total cost for the games in Hawaii? USASpending puts it at about $2.5 million. Is that the correct figure? If it is different, please explain.

"7) Please explain the meal/gift cards from USA Bancorp. Who were they for?"

The answers:

"The Golden Games in Honolulu allowed more than 900 Veterans of World War II, the Korean Era, Vietnam Era and Desert Storm Era to compete in the world’s largest sports and recreational competition for senior Veterans.

"For them, it was an opportunity to allow the men and women that sacrificed a chance to participate in one of the most progressive and adaptive rehabilitative senior sports programs in the world. This was not an event that was put on for the benefit of VA employees. The staff that put on the games, like all VA employees, are dedicated to providing quality care to Veterans of all eras.

"A couple of points:

"On VA staff: There were no other members of VA leadership other than Secretary Shinseki and Assistant Secretary Duckworth. The Games in Honolulu and St. Louis had 178 and 167 VA employees staffing the games, respectively.

"On hotel charges: The initial cost you cited, $500,000, was an estimate. The actual amount spent was less than half of that.

"On location: An in-depth analysis on the site selection began starting in March 2008. Honolulu, HI was chosen as the location for the 25thNVGAG, in part, because of a high percentage of Vietnam Era Veterans attending these games most of whom had military experience being stationed or transported through Hawaii.

"On meal cards: Debit cards were provided to Veterans to cover their lunch and dinner throughout the week. No VA staff were provided meal cards.

"On transportation costs: Transportation which included buses and ADA vehicles were needed to move 826 Veterans and their caregivers of which 120+ were in wheelchairs or scooters to and from the airport and throughout the Honolulu area for athletic events."

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