Illinois Watchdog blasts Duckworth over spending on Hawaii V.A. event
Unearthing new evidence of Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) alleged fiscal extravagance during her tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the investigative news site Illinois Watchdog recently added new details to what it calls a "wasteful legacy" at the V.A.
Currently running to unseat Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District, Duckworth’s role in the affair came to the attention of the watchdog group as it sorted out occasionally conflicting accounts of her actions.
Named to the post of assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs by President Barack Obama in 2009, Duckworth was responsible for veterans programs relating to intergovernmental relations, homelessness, consumer affairs and rehabilitative special events, the Hartford Courant reported in 2011.
Duckworth was widely reported to have overseen the V.A.’s “Golden Age Games” in 2011 as event organizer for the six-day team-building event, held at a luxury resort in Honolulu at a lavish Hilton Hotel complex. The sports-oriented occasion involves veterans who are at least 55 years old and receiving V.A. health care benefits.
Duckworth alternately appeared to back away from any association with the event.
Just prior to the 2012 election, Duckworth told the Chicago Tribune that she played no part in the decision to host the event, despite news sources having reported otherwise.
The Illinois Watchdog, which covers politics with an emphasis on waste and fraud, said the V.A. spent over $2.5 million on the event in Duckworth’s home state of Hawaii. Vets competed in sports ranging from air-rifle shooting, golf and swimming to horseshoes, shuffleboard and dominoes.
Federal paperwork revealed that almost half of the entire budget — more than $1 million — was allocated to a single event-planning firm called Alaska Destination Specialists Inc., based in Anchorage, the Illinois Watchdog said. Additionally, the Washington Examiner said in 2012 that the V.A.’s tab for hotel rooms and conference space, transportation and meals for the 2011 event came to approximately $500,000, $400,000 and $229,000, respectively.
“Instead of spending money on our veterans, V.A. bureaucrats used taxpayer dollars on plush hotel accommodations at one of Honolulu’s most luxurious hotels,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who sits on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said of the expenditures. “Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and it sickens me to see their service being disrespected by the one agency specifically tasked with honoring them."