Report: Veterans Affairs Drops $20 million on Art Collection

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs blew through at least $20 million during a decade when the veterans seeking care, including aging veterans of World War II and military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, were shunted aside and performance audits were altered and forged, so that VA employees qualified for performance bonuses.

“Included in the expenditures is a 27-foot artificial Christmas tree for $21,500 delivered to Chillicothe, Ohio and two sculptures costing $670,000 for a VA facility in California that serves blind veterans,” according to the report produced by the government spending watchdog Open the Books. Open the Books was established as a legacy of Dr. Tom Coburn’s vigilance over government spending during his Senate career.

Other examples of the VA’s art spending spree include $6.3 million in taxpayer funds expended at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. There, $483,000 went for a large decorative rock and $807,000 was for the site preparation for the rock outside the building. Inside the center, the VA built a $330,000 half arc in the lobby of the mental health clinic, spent $365,000 for a sculpture at the entrance to the pool, and $305,000 for a sculpture in the center’s main lobby. Maybe, the most ambitious of the health center’s art programs was the $285,000 spent for the wall of dozens of rocks that light up to spell out quotes by President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt–in Morse Code.

At a facility in nearby San Francisco, Veterans Affairs spent $32,000 on 62 framed photographs from the local area, roughly $500 per photo.

A VA facility in Puerto Rico spent $610,000 on artwork and one in Alaska spent $100,000 on a sculpture.

In his July 26 letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald and Sen. Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) pointed out that one year ago, the VA issued a moratorium on art purchases, and then went ahead to spend $1.8 million on artwork. At the same time, the VA is sandbagging billions of dollars in unpaid invoices associated with the Veterans Choice Program. The program is a recent reform that allows veterans to use private sector medical services to mitigate long waiting times and distances between residences and facilities.

“I question the priorities of the Veterans Affairs for art purchases, while veterans want for care and call on you to block further spending on art by the Veterans Affairs and formalize processes, which instead uses veterans’ artwork instead,” wrote Kirk, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Constuction, the Department of Veterans Affairs and related agencies, the committee where the Senate’s VA budget is written.

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