U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wastes $2 million on smartphones, tablets for homeless vets

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wastes $2 million on smartphones, tablets for homeless vets
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is in charge of making sure that those who served to defend the country receive the benefits that they are entitled to. According to the Associated Press, a report issued Wednesday by an inspector general revealed that the agency spent close to $7 million to buy 10,000 smartphones with unlimited prepaid calling plans.

The report noted that 85% of the phones were never given out to vets resulting in a $1.8 billion loss for the unused pre-paid data plans. In addition, the Department sustained a loss of  $571,000 for unused data plans due to what is being called "poor oversight" of the purchase of close to 81,000 iPad tablets.

What the Department of Veterans Affairs was trying to accomplish with these purchases was to get homeless veterans the equipment they needed to increase telehealth visits. Those are video calls made between doctors and patients and during the worse of the pandemic, it was the safest way to get some type of medical help from a doctor. The number of telehealth visits increased from 2,500 in February 2020 to 38,000 in September 2020.

The inspector general came to the conclusion that the Veterans Health Administration officials, who were part of the Connected Care program, made a good faith effort to get smartphones into the hands of veterans but the plan suffered from the "lack of information for officials to be able to determine the quantity needed for the targeted veteran population." The report called for the agency to come up with improvements in how it stores smartphones and tablets.

To avoid wasting pre-paid unlimited data plans, the report suggested that in the future, data plan charges should be set up to start only once a device is handed over to a veteran. The agency bought 80,930 iPads for $63 million which included pre-paid data plans. But the tablets remained in storage for 17 days which cost the agency $571,000 in wasted data plans.

The report from the IG concluded, "Officials could reduce wasted data plan costs by establishing a realistic goal for days in storage, closely monitoring days in storage for devices with each type of data plan, and then taking corrective actions when necessary."

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