VA’s Muscle-Shirted Italian Tourism — Private Business, Agency Explains

Photograph by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A soldier with Blackfoot Company 1st Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment has Thanksgiving dinner while standing watch in a guard tower in Matakhan, Afghanistan, in this file photo.

A slideshow including images of a bronzed Department of Veterans Affairs employee in a sleeveless muscle shirt, a beach on Italy’s Amalfi coast and what appeared to be each serving of a nine-course meal at “Trattoria Arleste” in Cirella, Italy, which, according to the VA Facebook account, is “a short drive from Scalea:”

Not standard fare for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

“Research is tough, but someone has to do it!” an employee posted on the Twitter feed for the VA’s Veterans Canteen Service, which sells snacks at VA facilities.

The photos depicted “a trip to Southern Italy to explore gastronomic ecstasy, explore some incredible locations and visit” a former chief operating officer for the canteen service, according to captions on the VA Facebook account.

The pictures illustrate the House committee’ss frustration with the VA’s conflicting and slow responses to requests for information about department spending, says Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the committee.

His committee has been seeking data since August on the amount the VA spends on foreign travel each year, Miller said today. The request is one of 75 unanswered queries from members of his committee or its staff, he said. He’s unable to tell whether the employee’s European “field trip” involved taxpayer funds or was a personal vacation, he added.

W. Scott Gould, the department’s deputy secretary, sidestepped most of the committee’s questions today, promising answers at a future date. Less than two hours after the slideshow began, however, he shot down Miller’s suggestion that the photos were tied to a taxpayer-funded “boondoggle.” They were from an employee’s personal trip and didn’t involve VA funds, Gould said.

“Putting that kind of information up is a slap at the employees who work at VA every day,” Gould said.

Miller slapped back.

“I have not one time slapped at any of the 320,000 VA employees, I have slapped at the leadership,” the chairman told the administrator. “Expect much more oversight from this committee.”



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