Report Summary

Title: Purchases of Smartphones and Tablets for Veterans’ Use during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Report Number: 21-02125-132 Download
Report
Issue Date: 5/4/2022
City/State:
VA Office: Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Report Author: Office of Audits and Evaluations
Report Type: Review
Release Type: Unrestricted
Summary:

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated efforts by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to expand veteran access to telehealth. Accordingly, VHA’s Connected Care Office created a new digital divide consult to issue iPhones to veterans experiencing homelessness who were enrolled in the Department of Housing and Urban Development VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program. VHA was already loaning iPads to other veterans who lacked telehealth capable devices through the digital divide consult process. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) initiated this review to evaluate whether purchases of iPads and iPhones for veterans met mission needs while minimizing waste during fiscal year (FY) 2020 and through the first two quarters of FY 2021.

In July 2020, Connect Care officials purchased 10,000 iPhones with unlimited prepaid data plans for the homeless veterans enrolled in the HUD-VASH program. However, 8,544 of the 10,000 iPhones remained in storage as of July 2021, as demand for the iPhones was much lower than anticipated. The OIG found that this resulted in an estimated $1.8 million in wasted data plan costs. The OIG also identified opportunities for improvement regarding data plans for nearly 81,000 iPads purchased. Because Connected Care did not have strong enough oversight procedures for reducing or eliminating data plan waste, it incurred approximately $571,000 in additional wasted data plan costs.

The OIG made two recommendations to the under secretary for health. The first was to establish a realistic goal for days in storage and a process for monitoring days in storage. The second was to determine the viability of initiating data plan charges only when a device is issued to the veteran.