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US Department of Veterans Affairs Wastes $2 Million on Smartphones, Tablets for Homeless Vets

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is responsible for ensuring that those who have served to defend the country receive the benefits they are entitled to. According to the Associated PressA report Wednesday by an inspector general revealed that the agency has spent nearly $7 million to buy 10,000 smartphones with unlimited prepaid calling plans.
The report noted that 85% of phones were never given to vets, resulting in a $1.8 billion loss for the unused prepaid data plans. In addition, the ministry suffered a $571,000 loss for unused data plans as a result of what has been termed “poor oversight” over the purchase of nearly 81,000 iPad tablets.

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

The Inspector General concluded that Veterans Health Administration officials, who were part of the Connected Care program, had made a good faith effort to get smartphones into the hands of veterans, but the plan suffered ” lack of information for officials able to determine the amount needed for the intended veteran population.” The report called on the agency to come up with improvements in the way it stores smartphones and tablets.

To avoid wasting prepaid unlimited data plans, the report suggested that future data plan charges should only be set once a device has been handed over to a veteran. The agency bought 80,930 iPads for $63 million, including prepaid data plans. But the tablets remained in storage for 17 days, costing the agency $571,000 in wasted data plans.

The IG’s report concluded, “Officials could reduce the cost of wasted data plans by setting a realistic target for storage days, closely monitoring device storage days on each type of data plan, and then taking corrective action if necessary. “

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