CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - They're tasked with taking care of our nation's veterans and now we're checking to make sure the VA is also taking care of your tax dollars.
A Live 5 Investigation showed nearly $500,000 of equipment was lost or missing from the Ralph H Johnson VA medical center in Charleston.
Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence are the core values of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Many people across the area – come specifically for the services they offer.
Kristi Driggers was diagnosed with ALS and drives from the Midlands down to Charleston to use the VA's services.
"I cannot describe to you what it's like," Kristi said. "It's like doing the ice bucket challenge – being dunked in a bucket of water and not being able to come back out. Your muscles tense up that much and they stay tensed up until they decide they're okay."
Driggers was diagnosed with ALS several years ago and her health has since been deteriorating.
"It is the hardest thing to do," she said. "This is harder than the army. I was stationed in Alaska and I was telecommunications so we set up phone and data that worked out in the middle of nowhere in Alaska in the freezing temperatures. And that was a joke compared to what I go through now."
Her experience at the VA in Charleston has always been pleasant.
"They examine me every time and do a complete checkup of my body and where it's at. It's always changing," Driggers said.
There was something that did not sit well with her.
Every year the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center takes a full inventory of items. It's a 100 percent wall-to-wall inventory of all of the equipment – including the main facility and outlying buildings. The VA has staff that is dedicated to conducting that inventory.
If a piece of equipment is not found during that inventory, officials initiate a "report of survey." That is a group, of about middle-manager staff, who are charged with searching for the equipment. They spend 60 days searching for the equipment. After the 60 days, the item is officially considered "lost" based on a recommendation from the group.
Officials with the VA said a lot of times items are found with the "report of survey" process, or they make a determination that something was stolen or broken.
The lost equipment includes 230 phones, 63 TVs, 42 computers, five manikins and seven servers. The missing servers cost more than $127 thousand.
"This is not taking care of veterans," Driggers said. "There is so much more they could do with that money."
Those at the VA say they're striving to get better.
"I would like for that number to be nothing," Felissa Koernig, the Associate Director at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, said. "I would like for us to not have any lost equipment."
Koernig said they have dedicated resources to look for the items. She does not believe, however, every item listed as lost is actually gone.
"A lot of equipment in a medical center is handheld and it's portable," Koernig said. "So that means if someone is doing a room-to-room inventory and they're going through that room – if a patient is in there, or the item is being used, it may not be scanned."
Koernig added they believe that things that are listed as lost, but are not actually lost, is because of paperwork. She said there is a process to turn in a piece of equipment.
"When you turn in a piece of equipment that is broken or damaged, people are supposed to fill out a piece of paperwork and stick it to that piece of equipment for the logistics staff to pick up so they can take it out of our inventory," Koernig said. "A lot of times, busy clinical staff may just discard a piece of equipment and not fill out that paperwork."
"A lot of our efforts are focused on training people to make sure that they are turning in that equipment so we don't have things that are recorded as lost that really should have been discarded," Koernig added.
Koernig said their lost items amount to less than one percent of their entire inventory. The exact numbers are clarified in this statement:
"In FY2017, Charleston VA Medical Centers total assets on record were 10,876; valued at $89,733,396.40. This VA realized a loss of less than 1% of equipment pieces (132 pieces due to loss or administrative error)…
The Region 3 Office of Information Technology for the Charleston VA Medical Centers total assets on record were 13,115; valued at $9,811.065.00. This VA realized a loss of less than 1% of equipment pieces (290 pieces due to loss or administrative error)."
"Less than one percent is good but it's not outstanding," Koernig added.
And, at least one veteran, agrees the VA should be doing better.
"Absolutely shameful that you would sit there and let that money go knowing that you guys need supplies and veterans need supplies," Driggers said.
"Any cost to the tax payers that could be avoidable should be minimized," Koernig said. "This is something that is on our radar – we take it very seriously that we want to have as many taxpayer dollars as possible to provide the vast majority of services that we can to veterans. And that anything that takes away from our ability to expand that farther is something that we try to minimize as much as possible."
In regards to anyone being charged for stealing any items, Live 5 News received this response from VA officials: