Memo: VA Is Using Illegal 'Shopping Lists' to Buy Medical Devices that May Not Meet Safety Standards

Cortney O'Brien
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Posted: May 14, 2015 2:00 PM
Memo: VA Is Using Illegal 'Shopping Lists' to Buy Medical Devices that May Not Meet Safety Standards

A new memo obtained by the Washington Post has revealed more of the shameful workings of the Veterans Affairs administration. Like last year’s scandals, these ones could be just as deadly to our nation’s finest.

Jan R. Frye, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ senior procurement official, sent a 35-page report to Secretary Robert McDonald in March explaining how the VA was spending upwards of $6 billion on unlawful items that were obtained without contracts. Here’s just one excerpt from the report that demonstrates how VA employees wrongfully spent taxpayer money.

The unlawful activity did not end. I currently have on my desk a spreadsheet of obligations made by VHA for FY 2013 and the first six months of FY 2014, using the government purchase card as payment. This spreadsheet reflects there may have been as much as $1.2B in prosthetics purchased sans contracts, in violation of Federal law during this 18-month period. In the past 60 days, I visited a major VHA hospital, wherein they reported they did not discontinue the illegal practice until October 2014.

Procuring medical items without contracts for private medical care is extremely dangerous, Frye explains in further detail.

When VA procures pharmaceuticals, non-VA health care or medical devices without terms and conditions afforded via written contracts, or by officials without proper authority to enter into contracts, the government forfeits all legal protections afforded by contract law. For instance, pharmaceuticals and medical devices procured without contractual terms and conditions may result in products not meeting efficacy and safety mandates.

The VA obtained these items with purchase cards, which are supposed to be used as a matter of convenience for minor purchases of up to $3,000, and by using a “shopping list” that ignored the need for competition.

Large medical systems similar to VA order many supplies in bulk through a list of approved vendors, identified through a competitive process, to ensure quick delivery for the best price. But VA’s system for these “just-in-time” purchases is deeply flawed, and this is yet another way that the agency wastes money, Frye says.

He writes that there are many types of supplies that are not covered by these arrangements. Instead, they are ordered off the shelf, without competition and for higher prices, from a “shopping list” containing 400,000 items, “indiscriminately and not in accordance” with acquisition laws.

Illegally purchasing medical devices can be placed on a growing list of shameful activity within the VA that includes long wait times for vets seeking care, unsanitary equipment, and administration cover-ups.

Americans do not want their dollars going to a government agency that treats veterans so poorly. As for the veterans themselves, it goes without saying they deserve better.

Frye summed it up in two words: “gross mismanagement.”

As for that VA reform bill President Obama signed in August of last year, it has done little (nothing?) to improve conditions.

Our vets are waiting for some real care.