Two veterans groups on Friday backed Rep. Vern Buchanan (R., Fla.) in his effort to halt the Department of Veterans Affairs’ spending on high-end artwork.
Concerned Veterans for America and Veterans for Common Sense commended Buchanan, who last week called for an immediate freeze on the VA’s art spending after an investigation revealed that the agency spent $20 million on high-end art purchases over the last decade.
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"It’s disgraceful that the VA put money toward these purchases as veterans waited weeks, sometimes months, on end to see a doctor," Buchanan said. "The VA’s repeated failure to provide veterans with urgently-needed care is unacceptable. The agency should focus on fulfilling its obligation to our nation’s veterans instead of buying fancy artwork."
According to the joint investigation by Open the Books and COX Media, the VA spent $16 million on high-end art during the Obama administration years alone and $20 million over the last 10 years. These purchases included $21,000 for a 27-foot fake Christmas tree and $670,000 for two sculptures at a VA facility serving blind veterans.
A subsequent report by the Daily Caller News Foundation revealed that, as of 2011, the VA had 167 interior designers on staff at its medical facilities across the country. The revelations have sparked outrage among members of Congress.
The VA has refused to answer questions from lawmakers about its art spending for nine months. Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, threatened to subpoena the VA over its art spending earlier this month.
"The VA’s flawed priorities are actively hurting our veterans–on the backs of American taxpayers," Dan Caldwell, vice president of policy and communications at Concerned Veterans for America, said Friday. "While veterans nationwide are struggling to receive basic health care, the VA is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on sculptures."
Anthony Hardie, director of Veterans for Common Sense, emphasized the "more pressing needs and systemic problems" facing VA facilities nationwide that he said the agency should prioritize over art spending, including fixing its suicide hotline.
Investigations by the VA inspector general have repeatedly exposed failings and misconduct at VA facilities. In February, for example, a report by the watchdog indicated that multiple calls to the VA’s crisis line went to voicemail and were never returned.
The VA has been repeatedly scrutinized by lawmakers for wasteful spending. Last week, the Washington Free Beacon reported that the agency spent over $408 million on solar panel projects, many of which were delayed, between fiscal years 2010 and 2015. During the same period, veterans were found to have died waiting for care at the VA as hospital staffers kept secret lists to hide long wait times.