VA Spent $20 Million on Art Amidst Scandal

Six-figure sculptures for facility serving blind vets

Veterans Psychiatric Care
VA Medical Center / AP

The Veterans Affairs administration spent $20 million on expensive artwork and sculptures amidst the healthcare scandal, where thousands of veterans died waiting to see doctors.

The taxpayer watchdog group Open the Books teamed up with COX Media Washington, D.C., for an oversight report on spending at the VA, finding numerous frivolous expenditures on artwork, including six-figure dollar sculptures at facilities for the blind.

"In the now-infamous VA scandal of 2012-2015, the nation was appalled to learn that 1,000 veterans died while waiting to see a doctor," wrote Adam Andrzejewski, the founder and CEO of Open the Books, in an editorial for Forbes. "Tragically, many calls to the suicide assistance hotline were answered by voicemail. The health claim appeals process was known as ‘the hamster wheel’ and the appointment books were cooked in seven of every ten clinics."

"Yet, in the midst of these horrific failings the VA managed to spend $20 million on high-end art over the last ten years—with $16 million spent during the Obama years," Andrzejewski said.

The VA spent $21,000 for a 27 foot fake Christmas tree; $32,000 for 62 "local image" pictures for the San Francisco VA; and $115,600 for "art consultants" for the Palo Alto facility.

A "rock sculpture" cost taxpayers $482,960, and more than a half a million dollars were spent for sculptures for veterans that could not see them.

"In an ironic vignette, at a healthcare facility dedicated to serving blind veterans—the new Palo Alto Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center—the agency wasted $670,000 on two sculptures no blind veteran can even see," Andrzejewski said. "The ‘Helmick Sculpture’ cost $385,000 (2014) and a parking garage exterior wall façade by King Ray Studio for the ‘design, fabrication, and installation of the public artwork’ cost $285,000 (2014)."

"Blind veterans can’t see fancy sculptures, and all veterans would be happier if they could just see a doctor," he said.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in North Carolina Tuesday, calling for reforms at the VA. Trump said he would keep the health care system public, but would allow Veterans to also use private hospitals and doctors of their choice.

Trump also called for firing VA officials and installing a hotline for veterans in the White House.

"The VA scandals that have occurred are widespread and totally inexcusable," Trump said. Many have died waiting for care that never came, a permanent stain on our government."