In the now-infamous VA scandal of 2012-2015, the nation was appalled to learn that 1,000 veterans died while waiting to see a doctor. Tragically, many calls to the suicide assistance hotline were answered by voicemail. The health claim appeals process was known as “the hamster wheel” and the appointment books were cooked in seven of every ten clinics.
Forbes Yet, in the midst of these horrific failings the VA managed to spend $20 million on high-end art over the last ten years – with $16 million spent during the Obama years.
A joint investigation by COX Media Washington, D.C. and our organization, OpenTheBooks.com found that the VA bought Christmas trees priced like cars and sculptures that cost more than five-bedroom homes. Then, there’s the two sculptures – with a price tag of $670,000 – for a VA center serving veterans who are blind.
Recently at Forbes, we released our oversight report entitled, “The VA Scandal Two Years Later.” The VA added 39,454 new positions to their payroll between 2012-2015, but fewer than one in 11 of these new positions (3,591) were ‘Medical Officers,’ i.e. doctors. Today, nearly 500,000 sick veterans are still wait-listed for an appointment because there just aren’t enough doctors.
In an ironic vignette, at a healthcare facility dedicated to serving blind veterans – the new Palo Alto Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center – the agency wasted $670,000 on two sculptures no blind veteran can even see. The “Helmick Sculpture” cost $385,000 (2014) and a parking garage exterior wall façade by King Ray Studio for the “design, fabrication, and installation of the public artwork” cost $285,000 (2014).
Instead of hiring doctors to help triage backlogged veterans, the VA’s bonus-happy bureaucracy spent millions of dollars on art. (See video)