Watchdog group Open the Books has blown the lid off the Veterans Affairs agency for spending tens of millions of dollars on needless artwork instead of giving our injured soldiers the care they need.
Between 2004 and 2014, the VA dolled out nearly $20 million on art commissions, including custom sculptures, art installations, and a giant Morse Code display on the side of a parking garage (above photo) to honor blind vets. The colorful dots and dashes light up and are translations of Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt quotes. The cost: $300,000.
During the same time period, soldiers were suffering through extremely long wait times with many dying before they could receive treatment. From the report:
While up to 1,000 veterans died waiting for VA healthcare; while many calls to the suicide prevention hotline were answered by voicemail; while the healthcare claims appeals process was described as "the hamster wheel"; and while the VA created 40,000 new positions, but hired only 3,600 doctors (2012-2015) – the agency managed to spend $20 million on artwork.
Included in the expenditures is a 27’ artificial Christmas tree for $21,500 delivered to Chillicothe, OH and two sculptures costing $670,000 for a VA facility in California that serves blind veterans. Blind veterans can’t see fancy sculptures, and all veterans deserve to see a doctor.
Open the Books CEO Adam Andrzejewski is calling for further investigations into the VA's expenditures. He brings up a great point in asking why the art featured at facilities isn't created by the veterans themselves:
"Veterans tell me [theirs are] the stories that resonate with other veterans, not picturesque landscapes and sculptures they can’t see."
The VA is defending its purchases, telling ABC News:
“While we must be stewards of taxpayer dollars, we also know that providing comprehensive health care for patients goes beyond just offering the most advanced medical treatments. Artwork is one of the many facets that create a healing environment for our nation’s Veterans. We want an atmosphere that welcomes them to VA facilities, shows them respect and appreciation, honors them for their service and sacrifice and exemplifies that this is a safe place for them to receive their care."
Also coming to the VA's defense is the American Legion which said the expenses were approved by Congress.
"We don’t want our hospitals looking like the inside of prisons," said American Legion director Louis Celli.
The full list of art purchases can be viewed here.