The Department of Veterans Affairs spent millions of dollars on artwork and decorations for its hospitals and administrative offices, while millions of veterans wait months just to see a doctor.
Over the past 10 years, the VA spent $20 million on artwork, $16 million of which was spent under President Barack Obama’s tenure, according to research from two government spending watchdogs. The VA dramatically increased its purchases of artwork since 2009, according to the research.
“Instead of hiring doctors to help triage backlogged veterans, the VA’s bonus-happy bureaucracy spent millions of dollars on art,” Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of non-government oversight group American Transparency, wrote in a Forbes piece.
The VA spent $3,122,874 on artwork purchases in 2015 alone, according to research by American Transparency and COX Media Washington.
“Our data shows millions of dollars spent on seemingly small transactions quickly added up,” Andrzejewski said in the article. Most of the purchases were less than $100,000, but more than a dozen pieces of art came with a price tag of $250,000 or more.
During the worst years of the VA’s waitlist fraud, the VA bought some extravagant pieces of art. In 2014, the VA bought a sculpture for the massive Polytrauma and Blind Research Center in Palo Alto, California for $375,000. For Christmas 2011, one facility bought a 27-foot-tall artificial tree for $21,000. Another hospital bought a sculpture called “Metal Art Tree Of Life With Leaves And Doves” for $54,942 in 2013.
For perspective, the starting salary for a VA primary care physician is $98,000 a year. The VA added 3,591 new employees between 2012 and 2015, but only 1 out of every 11 were doctors, American Transparency said in a report last May. After reports revealed veterans waited months to see a doctor — and that as many as 1,000 veterans died in 2014 while they waited — the department committed to reforming its operations, but problems persist.(RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Three Phoenix VA Patients Died After Not Receiving Care)
It could take as long as 90 days for the VA to implement art procurement rules, Andrzejewski says. Rather than eliminating art purchases entirely, Andrzejewski suggests the VA should buy art created by veterans. That way, veterans would benefit and the VA could potentially save some money avoiding the boutique art market.
Artwork may contribute to the mood of patients who actually receive care from VA hospitals. A study from the National Institute of Health in 2014 found that the Cleveland Clinic’s art collection had a “significant effect on the patient experience and on self-reported mood, stress, comfort and expectations.”
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