VA spent $20 million on art amid wait-time scandal

The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $20 million on expensive artwork between 2004 and 2014, during which time dozens of veterans died waiting for healthcare services, a new report from Open The Books alleges, according to ABC News.

Open The Books, a nonprofit organization that purports it is the largest private database of government spending, and Cox Media used government data to examine the VA's spending on art for their facilities.

Some of the extravagant spending includes more than $1 million for a courtyard with a large sculpture at a Palo Alto, Calif., facility; $330,000 for a glass-art installation; and $21,000 for an artificial Christmas tree, according to the report.

Much of the spending occurred during what later emerged as the "veteran's wait-time scandal," when veterans were experiencing long waits for treatment at many VA facilities. After approximately 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the VA's Phoenix Healthcare System, the VA inspector general found in 2014 that the long waits might have contributed to the deaths, though he could not say conclusively that the waits caused them.

At the time, the VA admitted its healthcare operations was understaffed, according to the report.

The VA has told ABC News it is developing a national art policy that will regulate the commissioning of artwork.

"While we must be stewards of taxpayer dollars, we also know that providing comprehensive healthcare for patients goes beyond just offering the most advanced medical treatments. Artwork is one of the many facets that create a healing environment for our nation's veterans. We want an atmosphere that welcomes them to VA facilities, shows them respect and appreciation, honors them for their service and sacrifice and exemplifies that this is a safe place for them to receive their care," the VA said in a statement.

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