The VA spent more than $20 million on fancy art while veterans waited for care
by Kellan Howell
August 1, 2016
The Department of Veterans Affairs has amassed a luxurious and costly art collection over the past decade, costing taxpayers $20 million, according to a new watchdog report.
Between 2004 and 2014 the agency spent millions on giant sculptures, glass installations, and other various projects, according to Open The Books, a nonprofit which examines federal spending data.
The VA spent most of that money in 2014, the same year it was revealed that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the VA's Phoenix facility. Lengthy wait times and falsified wait lists may have contributed to their death.
The VA spent over $3 million on artwork in 2014 alone, according to Open The Books.
Among the items the VA bought were a 27-foot artificial Christmas tree costing $21,000 and two sculptures costing $670,000 at a facility in Palo Alto, Calif. which largely services blind veterans.
One of the installations at that facility was a $285,000 parking garage exterior wall facade with quotes by Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt spelled out in light-up morse code.
"Blind veterans can't see fancy sculptures, and all veterans deserve to see a doctor," said Open The Books founder Adam Andrzejewski in the report.
The VA told ABC News that it is developing a national art policy that will address the commissioning of art work.
"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," the VA said in a statement.
The expensive artwork has outraged lawmakers who had already raised concerns about the VA's spending record.
Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., penned a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald, demanding a "moratorium on art spending" by the agency.
According to Kirk's letter, the House Veterans Affairs committee had voiced concern about the VA's spending on art at the Palo Alto facility last fall.
"The VA has not taken the directive over a year ago to stop excessive, non-veteran spending on artwork," Kirk wrote in his letter.