SALEM (WSLS 10) – A security project that’s been going on for two years at the Salem VA Medical Center isn’t finished and equipment continues to go missing. It’s been a year since WSLS 10 exposed problems finding more than $1.7 million in missing equipment and a $1.3 million security upgrade that wasn’t working correctly. We are taking a closer look at what’s been done to correct the issues and how our investigation has exposed the same problems across the country.
“As with any electrical device, you’re going to have a failure at one point or another. Even if it’s brand-new. You could buy a brand-new car, drive down the road and something may cause it to stop,” said VA Medical Center Police Chief Dale Hendley when we talked to him in 2015 asking about $1.3 million of taxpayer money earmarked for security upgrades.
The upgrades were supposed to be up and running in 2014, but some parts still weren’t functioning and he had to ask for another $200,000 to fix it. Now two years after the project was supposed to be working, it is still not finished.
As Hendley explained, the Medical Center has been identified as a potential target for terrorism and one of the security projects would allow the more than 80 buildings on the campus to be locked or opened with the push of a button.
After our investigation, we were told the project fixes started in October 2015. We’ve asked how much of the project has been completed and when it’s expected to be finished, but those questions weren’t answered. We were only told the security project is “in the final stages of completion. Prior to activation, the system will undergo comprehensive testing and validation to ensure full functionality.”
Our repeated requests for interviews were turned down by the Salem VA Medical Center. They only answered our questions via email and never returned any of our calls.
Another piece of our WSLS 10 investigation covered $1.7 million in missing equipment. Most of it written off the books.
“Sometimes there’s a priority to look for it and sometimes there’s not a priority to look for it,” our source told us in 2015.
“Have any of the questions we’ve asked in this process or documents that we’ve asked for in this process, made you realize things need to be done a different way?” asked Zibton when she brought the findings of her month-long investigation to the Salem VA Medical Center.
“The answer is yes and anybody that takes a look at us from an outside perspective, we should listen to that,” said James Kelly, the Salem VAMC Chief Logistics Officer at the time in 2015.
But has anything changed since our stories aired in 2015?
The Salem VA tells us staff has continued with “staff education, training, and continual scanning of equipment…”
But equipment continues to go missing, according to documents from the Salem VA. Since our initial investigation we sent another Freedom of Information request. In the last year and a half, 120 items were written off the books after being reported lost. Those items had a reported value of more than $82,000.
After our investigations several TV stations across the country started asking some of the same questions.
In central Texas, KXAN discovered 267 items worth $250,000 listed by the VA as lost or stolen over a five-year period. Across the state, nearly 5,000 missing items worth about $6.2 million dollars. More than $1 million of missing equipment in Houston, $1.5 million in San Antonio and the biggest total was in the Dallas area with more than $3 million worth of items the VA staff couldn’t find.
In Dayton, Ohio, WDTN looked at their local VA, finding more than $308,000 of items listed as missing, stolen and damaged.
At the Salem VA Medical Center and across the country, they all said part of it is record-keeping errors. To help keep track of items, the VA is implementing a Real Time Location System (RTLS). The idea is that items will be able to be pulled up at anytime and you can see where those items are on the VA campus. They anticipate Salem will be in line to install the tracking system in 2018.