Cincinnati VA requests $37,500 trip to movies

The Cincinnati Veteran Affairs Medical Center requested funding for 5,000 pre-paid movie tickets to be part of an annual employee recognition program.

The request for the movie tickets was made Oct. 2, but a spokeswoman confirmed Thursday, however, that the annual rewards program has been suspended.

“(The decision) was probably made yesterday because we were discussing it and reviewing the program and what your questions were,” Denise Kerr, the spokeswoman for the Cincinnati medical center, told a Journal-News reporter Thursday.

The VA medical center is fully operational, despite the shutdown, and, “the majority of employees will be able to continue to provide excellent health care and services to the veterans we serve,” Kerr said.

Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-Columbia Tusculum) questioned the spending request Thursday.

“This request really calls into question the VA’s spending priorities, especially during a tough fiscal climate and at a time when VA employees are being furloughed,” Wenstrup said in a statement. “What kind of message does this send to furloughed workers, to American taxpayers, and to veterans whose service benefits are still backlogged?”

Veterans medical centers across the country have enough money to stay open, but VA officials warned earlier this week that if the shutdown drags on, 3.8 million veterans might not receive their disability compensation in November.

“We are sensitive to the current climate and timing surrounding furloughs and the government,” Kerr said in a statement of the decision to suspend the program. “The procurement had been planned well before the current financial crisis.”

State Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton), a disabled veteran who has utilized Cincinnati’s medical center, said he didn’t think the movie tickets were unnecessary, but called the request ill-timed.

“I think that wanting to reward their employees and volunteers for their excellent service is a good thing; I think the timing is a little bad right now,” Retherford said.

The medical center, which employs 2,271 employees, requested 5,000 Cinemark Platinum Supersaver Prepaid Admission tickets, which would allow employees to see any movie, at any time, in the Greater Cincinnati region.

The tickets typically cost $7.50 each, according to the business’ website, which means taxpayers could pay more than $37,000 for the 5,000 movie tickets.

Workers at the medical center, many who might be veterans, have earned such rewards, said Dan Biondo, the post commander for AmVets Post 1983 in Hamilton.

“I feel it’s a good request,” Biondo said. “Anything that pertains to helping veterans, they should spend that money. I would imagine they’re all veterans themselves.”

But Rodney Eversole, a Warren County veteran who has been waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process his disability claim for more than two years, said the agency should be spending its money elsewhere.

“Are you kidding me?” Eversole said of the request. “I would appreciate it if they would process my claim that’s been pending for two-and-a-half years and not watch movies. This is the same VA that’s no longer processing disability claims, no longer processing new claims and directed by the same (director).”

The Cincinnati VA Medical Center was the only Ohio center to make such a request during the shutdown, which began Oct. 1. Only six federal government requests for purchase orders have been made in the state of Ohio since the shutdown began, and all have come from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base made a request for medical center furniture on Oct. 7. An estimate for the furniture will not be available until Oct. 18, according to government records.