The Hill: GOP rep, vets groups slam VA art purchases TheHill

August 19, 2016 12:25 PM
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GOP rep, vets groups slam VA art purchases

By Rebecca Kheel - 08/19/16 12:25 PM EDT
A Republican congressman and two veterans groups slammed the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday for spending millions of dollars on art.
"It’s disgraceful that the VA put money toward these purchases as veterans waited weeks, sometimes months, on end to see a doctor," Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said in a written statement. "The VA’s repeated failure to provide veterans with urgently needed care is unacceptable. The agency should focus on fulfilling its obligation to our nation’s veterans instead of buying fancy artwork."
At issue is a July report from nonprofit government spending watchdog Open the Books and Cox Media that said the VA spent $20 million on artwork from 2004 to 2014.
Among the purchases were $330,000 for a glass-art installation, $21,500 for an artificial 27-foot Christmas tree and $1.3 million for the installation of a rock sculpture outside a mental health center, according to the report.
The VA has said art helps create a healing environment.
The report sparked fresh anger at the VA wait-time controversy, with Republicans demanding answers and calling for a halt in the VA buying art.
Last week, Buchanan too called for a freeze in buying art at the VA. On Friday, he announced two veterans groups are backing his call.
Dan Caldwell, vice president of policy and communications at the conservative-backed Concerned Veterans for America, called the VA’s priorities "flawed."
"The VA’s flawed priorities are actively hurting our veterans — on the backs of American taxpayers," he said in a written statement. "While veterans nationwide are struggling to receive basic health care, the VA is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on sculptures."
Anthony Hardie, the director of Veterans for Common Sense, highlighted the suicide hotline, which has come under fire for calls going to voicemail, as an example of what the VA needs to address before spending money on art.
"There are much more pressing needs and systemic problems at VA facilities around the country that need to be addressed before the VA spends millions of taxpayer dollars on lavish new artwork," he said, "including fixing VA’s suicide hotline so it can always provide immediate assistance."  
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