Salem VA reports show $1.7M worth of equipment missing in last 5 years

Vital sign monitors stored in a bathroom at the Salem VA (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

WSLS 10's investigation found:

  • Salem VA reported more than $1.7 million in missing equipment over the last 5 years
  • $1.3 million written off the books
  • Records not being kept correctly
  • Equipment being stored in bathrooms
  • VA Chief Logistics Officer admits findings are "concerning"

SALEM (WSLS 10) - The Salem VA Medical Center has 22,000 pieces of equipment they track every year across multiple buildings on the 225 acre property but a WSLS 10 investigation finds more than $1.7 million of that equipment has recently been reported missing.

Medical monitors photographed in a Salem VA bathroom

Medical equipment, big screen TVs and computers. All bought with taxpayer money for the Salem VA Medical Center but a WSLS 10 investigation shows items just like this more than $1.7 million dollars worth of equipment were reported lost in the last five years.

"It's more of a management situation, that they know what's going on. It's just things aren't being done about it," said a VA employee who didn't want to be identified fearing retailiation or losing his job. He says no one is being held accountable.

Big ticket items reported missing. In 2012, a $26,555 lighting assembly, auditorium and stage reported lost. In 2013, a $75,700 portable ultra sound unit gone.

"Sometimes there's a priority to look for it and sometimes there's not a priority to look for it," said the employee.

Click to expand: Documents WSLS 10 obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show hundreds of items were reported missing over the last 5 years

Our eight month-investigation into hundreds of pages of documents shows of the more than 1,100 individual items reported lost only 198 were ever reported found. Nearly one thousand items worth more than $1.3 million written off the books.

Your tax dollars lost. How does this happen?

"There's quite a few things that are on these areas that are not locked properly or locked correctly," said the employee.

Our insider says security is an issue in medical wards, offices and storage areas. He's found patient records in boxes, floors of furniture and rooms of medical equipment. Dozens of vital signs monitors worth thousands of dollars were seen in several areas including a bathroom. Our source says Salem VA records show the monitors are currently being stored in a warehouse when they were actually photographed in this bathroom.

Chief Logistics Officer James Kelly oversees the highly secured area with key card access and specially locked gates. Kelly oversees everything that comes into the Salem VA and everything that goes out but when we asked about the monitors he said it wasn't his department even though the records show the monitors are being stored in a warehouse.

With questions of equipment not being stored correctly how difficult is it to track down that $1.7 million dollars of missing equipment?  Kelly's department also oversees that list and the annual inventory.

"We continue to look for that equipment. It is always on our radar," said Kelly.

Kelly says if something comes up missing on the annual inventory a team is sent to investigate. They report back with suggestions on how to make sure it doesn't happen again. Those recommendations are passed onto the leadership team at the Salem VA.

Our investigation shows some items are not really missing.  VA records we found show two beds reported missing in 2014 were traded in for $50 each and the record never updated.

Once we started asking questions and requesting documents the Salem VA began to take a closer look at what was missing and more items turned up.

"By item count we were able to locate about 50% of each one of those in each respective year," said Kelly.

He says it wasn't so much that those items were missing it's records not being kept correctly.

"If this is the official document that the governing body overseeing you, the 'big VA' as you call it, if that's what they're looking at, and that records not correct, does that concern you?" asked Zibton.

"Yeah. It's actually is concerning," said Kelly.

"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.

"The answer is yes and anybody that takes a look at us from an outside perspective, we should listen to that," said Kelly.

Kelly admits there are things the Salem VA needs to continue to look at including employee training and possibly some process issues to make sure records are updated correctly but our source is skeptical things will change after seeing a pattern for so long.

"The people who are running VA, they know this and for some reason are allowed to continue this behavior. I don't believe it'll stop until multiple agencies go in and investigate VA," said the employee.

About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.