Some lawmakers are outraged that as part of federal departments’ use-it-or-lose-it spending sprees before the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 the Department of Veterans Affairs blew more than half a million dollars on artwork.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today called on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to justify the purchase that carried a $562,000 price tag.
“At a time when the nation’s crushing debt threatens the well-being of our veterans and all Americans, and when spending across the government is being reduced, I fail to comprehend the reason why this purchase was authorized,” Moran wrote.
“If the overall fiscal stability of our country is not of sufficient concern, then the VA should have at least prioritized service to veterans who continue to wait inordinate lengths of time to receive decisions on benefit claims,” the letter continued.
Veterans Affairs staff had been working 20 hours of overtime a week to push the number of backlogged claims — pending for more than 125 days — under 500,000, working toward the goal of clearing the backlog by 2015. In 2011 alone, 20,000 veterans died waiting for their claims to be processed.
And there’s also concern that the VA is quickly pounding out claims decisions without adequate investigation simply to clear the backlog of unprocessed claims. In the appeals process sit 250,000 claims with an average processing time of 1,200 days.
“These funds also would have been better spent filling positions in Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Kansas and other rural states where staffing remains an acute problem to which the VA is struggling to respond adequately. Among these and many other problems before the VA, it is very troubling that appropriations were not put to better use,” Moran continued.
Last month, PJM reported that the VA medical facility on the island of St. Thomas has been without a doctor for almost a month — one of the more extreme examples of doctor shortages that have been experienced across the system.
“As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, it is a priority of mine to ensure the well-being of all veterans, which entails providing the VA with the means necessary to care for them. I personally pledged to you both in a public hearing and privately in my office that I am an ally in helping you do your job. I ask that you work to restore my confidence in the VA by ensuring your agency is spending taxpayer money in a responsible, effective manner that best serves the interests of America’s veterans,” Moran wrote.
“I request a justification for the purchase of over a half-million dollars of artwork for the VA and look forward to a timely response.”
Agencies fear if they don’t spend the remainder of their budget on big-ticket purchases before the end of the fiscal year that their budget will get trimmed in the next cycle.