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Pricey VA conferences included $52,000 'Patton' parody video

WASHINGTON – House Veterans Affairs Committee officials today posted online the $52,000 parody video of the movie “Patton” used at a pair of expensive, controversial Department of Veterans Affairs conventions in Florida last summer. The events – and their $5 million price tag – are under investigation by Congress and the department’s inspector general.

About 1,800 VA employees attended the four-day events, held in July and August 2011 in Orlando. Officials from the inspector general’s office have said that the conferences were for legitimate training purposes, but appear to have included excessive spending.

The 15-minute video (embedded below), designed to outline the agenda for the conferences, was produced by an outside contractor rather than VA staffers, according to the committee staff. It includes numerous interviews with VA human resource employees but is punctuated by a George C. Scott lookalike parroting his iconic movie role.

In a statement, committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he has requested all VA conference budgets for the last three years “to see if these two conferences are an anomaly or are part of a bigger pattern.” Staffers noted that the VA does have videographers on the payroll. but VA officials did not respond to requests seeking comment on why the work was sent to an outside company. Update below.

Last week, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., requested similar information from the department, noting that conference documents also indicate that more than $84,000 was spent on promotional pens, USB drives, hand sanitizers and other souvenirs for the event.

In response to the reports, VA officials have vowed to hold accountable any employees who misused or abused taxpayer dollars.

UPDATE 1250 p.m.: VA officials just released this statement on the video: 

“This parody should never have been produced and this misuse of taxpayer funds is completely unacceptable. This event took place over a year ago and we have already adopted new rules that reflect our continuing commitment to safeguarding taxpayer dollars.

“The Department is cooperating fully with the VA Office of Inspector General’s ongoing investigation, and earlier this month Secretary Shinseki proactively informed key members of Congress of the investigation. Additionally, VA has taken action to remove purchasing authority of any employees in the work unit under investigation." 

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