Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Vets Groups Back Buchanan’s Fight Vs. Wasteful Spending by VA

Aug 19, 2016
Press Release
Agency Spent Millions on Opulent Artwork As Sick Veterans Ignored

WASHINGTON – Two of the nation’s leading veterans’ groups today backed Congressman Vern Buchanan’s effort to end wasteful spending by the Veterans Administration on luxury artwork.

Concerned Veterans for America and the Veterans for Common Sense said the VA’s priorities should be focused on helping veterans, not purchasing opulent artwork for their buildings or offices.

Buchanan last week called for an immediate freeze on all artwork purchases made by the VA following a report that the agency spent more than $20 million on high-end artwork, sculptures and art consulting services over the last 10 years.

Dan Caldwell, vice president of policy and communications at Concerned Veterans for America, said, “The VA’s flawed priorities are actively hurting our veterans – on the backs of American taxpayers.”

Caldwell commended Buchanan, saying, “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, voiced a similar concern: “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, including fixing VA’s suicide hotline so it can always provide immediate assistance,” Hardie said.

Buchanan said the VA should focus on providing care to veterans, not padding the pockets of art consultants.

“It’s disgraceful that the VA put money toward these purchases as veterans waited weeks, sometimes months, on end to see a doctor,” Buchanan said. “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.”

Some of the outrageous expenditures included $115,600 for “art consultants” for the VA’s Palo Alto facility, $330,000 for a glass-art installation and $21,500 for an artificial 27-foot Christmas tree. Nearly $1.3 million was spent on the installation of a rock sculpture outside a VA mental health center that is meant to evoke “a sense of transformation, rebuilding and self-investigation,” according to the Washington Post.

Florida is home to more than 1.6 million veterans, and Buchanan’s congressional district has the second-highest number of veterans over the age of 65 in the state.

The investigation into the VA’s expenditures on luxury art arrives as the department attempts to resolve recent issues with its 24-hour veterans’ suicide hotline. The VA’s inspector general reported earlier this year that distressed calls made by veterans were ignored or sent to voicemail and that the call center was ill-equipped to meet the demand of incoming calls. Similarly, a report released in June by the government’s nonpartisan watchdog group found that nearly 30 percent of text messages sent as a test to a crisis hotline went unanswered.

“It’s no wonder the VA has yet to regain the public’s trust,” Buchanan said. “The department failed to fix its suicide hotline, choosing instead to pour millions of dollars into adorning walls and lobbies.”

For more than nine months the VA has refused to provide information and answer questions from the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about its frivolous spending habits. The committee is threatening to subpoena the VA unless it receives answers by Aug. 26th.