Peter Lucas: VA's frivolous expenditures not a pretty picture
Sentinel & Enterprise
UPDATED: 08/19/2016 06:33:05 AM EDT
There is perhaps no better example of waste in the scandalous Veterans Administration than the millions spent on art instead of on care.
You could begin with the $670,000 spent on two sculptures at a California blind veterans rehabilitation center that the blind veterans cannot even see.
It may be ludicrous to point out that, as far as the Obama administration and the VA is concerned, it is the blind leading the blind. But that is the way it seems.
In almost eight years as president, and despite billions spent on the VA, conditions for needy veterans under Obama have gotten worse, not better.
Obama has spent more time, energy and rhetoric on shutting down the prison at Gitmo and freeing radical Islamic terrorists than he has on the veterans who risked their lives on the battlefield to capture these terrorists in the first place.
And some 30 percent of the freed terrorists have gone back to the battlefield to kill more Americans.
But that did not stop Obama from taking a bow for what he has done for veterans in a recent speech before the Disabled Americans Veterans convention in Atlanta.
He did it by using the old Obama device of pretending, with solemn outrage, that the agency under fire was being run by some entity apart from his own administration.
"When too many veterans are still not receiving the care that they need, we all have to be outraged," an outraged Obama said.
While Obama did not mention Donald Trump, he poured cold water on Trump's proposal to allow veterans to seek private health care. "Don't destroy VA health care.
Fix it, but don't break our covenant with our veterans," he said.
"Long wait times, veterans denied care, people manipulating the books -- inexcusable," he said.
"We pledged to take care of you and your families when you come home. That's a sacred covenant. It's a solemn promise and it is binding. And upholding it is a moral imperative," he said.
What Obama failed to do, however, was to point out that how, as part of his moral imperative, he provided better medical care for the terrorists detained at Gitmo than the medical care given to American veterans.
He could also have mentioned that, under his thinking, the terrorists detained at Gitmo are veterans too, only from a different army. So, under his fairness doctrine, they have to be treated fairly. Unfortunately they belonged to an army that had few earthly benefits, so it was only fair that Obama help them out.
It is a good thing that Obama's speech to the DAV came before the news of the latest VA scandal hit home. Otherwise Obama may not have been so politely received.
This latest outrage centers on a report that the VA spent more than $20 million in the past 10 years on artwork for its facilities, while millions of veterans waited months for appointments and care under the VA's waitlist fraud program.
Some $16 million of the $20 million spent on art was spent under Obama's watch. In 2015 alone the VA spent $3.1 million on artwork
In a report compiled by American Transparency and Cox Media, it was revealed that among the art purchased by the VA was a $670,000 expenditure for a sculpture and exterior wall facade for the Palo Alto Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center in California. This is a facility totally committed to serving blind veterans.
Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of American Transparency, said that "millions of dollars spent on seemingly small transactions quickly added up." He pointed out that the VA in New Orleans spent $21,000 for a 27-foot Christmas tree; another hospital spent $54,000 on sculpture; the San Francisco hospital spent $32,000 on "local image" pictures and the VA facility in Anchorage spent $195,000 on sculpture.
One of the suggestions made by Andrzejewski was that, while artwork may contribute to the well-being of patients, the VA should consider buying such art from veterans rather than from the boutique art market.
Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, called on VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald for an explanation. In a letter to McDonald, Grassley said, "Leaving hundreds of thousands of veterans on wait lists while spending so much money on artwork undermines the American people's faith in the VA."
"The money used for this art could have gone toward providing better care for our veterans," he said. But it hasn't.
So what gives? What gives is it is a shameful case of the blind leading the blind.
Peter Lucas' political column appears Tuesday and Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.