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Winter Park/Maitland Observer: VA Bungles Solar Projects

September 1, 2016 06:08 PM
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VA Bungles Solar Projects

By Freddy Groves

September 1, 2016 6:08 p.m.

By harvesting the sun's rays and converting them into electricity, solar panels can mean big savings on electrical costs. To get those savings, however, the solar projects have to actually be completed. The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs investigated 11 solar projects undertaken by the VA and rated them on the end result.

These projects had been awarded between 2010 and 2013. Between 2010 and 2015, the VA spent $408 million. By March of 2016, only two of the 11 projects were up and running.

Solar projects are designed to be completed in less than 372 days. The projects the VAOIG inspected (at least the ones that were finished) had an average completion time of 1,269 days.

In Arkansas, an $8 million solar panel project had been created in the parking lot. It was never activated because it had to be dismantled when a new parking garage was built. The finish date was to be May 2013, and cost overruns are already at $1.5 million.

In California, a company was awarded a $22.5 million solar project in 2011, with an expected finish date of 2012. The state's historic preservation office got involved and required modifications to the plan, something nobody apparently considered. The solar array started producing electricity in 2015.

In Florida, a project was delayed for almost five years because no one realized that the roof of the parking garage would need to be raised to accommodate buses.

And so on, through another half dozen projects. In one, the connection point wasn't indicated on the plans. Another has been delayed 28 months so far, with one problem being welds versus bolts.

The VAOIG issued four suggestions for future improvement. The interim assistant secretary for management disagreed with two of them, including doing a lessons-learned analysis.

VA spends big for artwork

Consider this: $1.2 million for a sculpture. That's how much the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid to put a chunk of rock in the courtyard of the Palo Alto Mental Health Center.

In the name of disclosure, it was actually $482,960 for the rock itself and $807,310 for groundwork around it. Granted, the rock was cut into squares and fitted back together, but still ... The tally for artwork spending at Palo Alto tops $6 million at this point.

OpenTheBooks.com has investigated and determined how much the VA is spending on artwork.

Example: Quotations by Eleanor Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln, in Morse code, attached to the side of the parking deck. But hey, it lights up. Cost: $280,000.

Example: The new outpatient clinic in Anchorage snagged a glass sculpture for a mere $100,000.

It appears that one Florida company has raked in over $11 million over the years in various government contracts. One contract for artwork ($55,000) was categorized as Miscellaneous Furniture and Fixtures.

Then there's the company in New Jersey with a $3.75 million VA contract to provide a wide variety of items, including still cameras, fittings for ropes and cables ... and fur materials.

According to the OpenTheBooks.com website, the artwork numbers are crawling up each year. A mere $34,000 was spent in 2004. By 2010 it was up to $1.7 million. In 2014 the expenditures had shot up to $3.1 million. In 10 years, the tally comes to nearly $20 million for artwork.

A show of hands: Which would you rather have, a timely appointment with decent care, or a fancy chunk of rock outside the front door and glass doodads hanging in the lobby?

And where were the veterans who are artists? Surely there's untapped talent out there that could provide artwork for the VA facilities without running into the millions of dollars.

Who pays the bill for emergency care?

The last thing you need in a medical emergency is to stop to wonder who's going to pay for it if you go to a community hospital. Unfortunately, depending on the details, it might be the veteran who pays.

Earlier this year, Dr. Baligh Yehia, a top community-care official at the Department of Veterans Affairs, testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs about the sorry, inconsistent state of the VA's system of reimbursing for emergency medical services. One statistic: In one calendar year, 30 percent of the 2.9 million emergency-room claims were denied. This totaled $2.6 billion in medical bills that were kicked back to the veteran. Specifically:

• 98,000 claims denied because it was decided it wasn't an emergency,

• 320,000 claims denied because it was decided another insurer should pay,

• 89,000 claims denied because they weren't filed fast enough,

• 140,000 claims denied because it was decided that a VA hospital was available.

Before an emergency occurs, get familiar with the specifics of who pays for what. Go online to VA.gov and search for Non-VA Emergency Care. You'll get a long list of files. Scroll around and look for Fact Sheet 20-02. Print out some of the information and keep it in a file.

Know exactly how far you are in miles from the nearest VA hospital or emergency clinic, and whether it's reasonable to go that far in an emergency.

Know the difference between urgent and emergency care, because the VA won't pay for urgent care.

If you go to emergency care and are later admitted, the VA may insist you be transferred to a VA hospital or they won't pay the bills. Be clear on whether your emergency is due to service-related or non-service-related conditions.

You have 72 hours to notify the VA that you've gotten community emergency care.

Fact Sheet 20-02 will outline all this, and more.

(c) 2016 King Features Synd., Inc.

 
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