The Department of Veterans Affairs is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on artwork and decorations including an artificial $21,000 Christmas tree that is 27 feet tall.
The tree came from a company that boasts its trees are also displayed in front of the Ritz Carlton.
"I think it's a boondoggle waste of veterans’ money,” Retired U.S. Army veteran Rick Callahan said. “The money needs to be spent on veterans for their healthcare."
Channel 9’s Washington bureau partnered with a team at openthebooks.com and dug through thousands of VA spending records.
The website found more than $5 million was spent over four years, just for artwork at VA locations around the country.
The VA purchased $272,000 in artwork for the VA Charlotte Healthcare Center in Salisbury, according to records.
Veterans in Charlotte for the VFW Convention said that's wasteful spending.
"That's dumb stuff," Retired U.S. Army veteran Army Isaac Jones said. "Help the veterans and get them squared away."
Some defended the VA.
"I've never had a problem with them," Retired U.S. Army veteran Roy Schrimp said. "I know that there's room for improvement, but they've got my vote."
More than 8,000 veterans in the Charlotte area were waiting more than 30 days for an appointment at the VA as of July 1.
The agency said it's now drafting a new policy for how it buys art, but not for another 90 days.
"Here's what the VA spending people need to know, start shopping at Hobby Lobby," Adam Andrzejewski, with openthebooks.com, said.
For now, pricey items like the Christmas tree can still be purchased but a top manager's approval is now needed.
A VA spokesperson said the art creates an atmosphere that welcomes them to the facility and VA shows them respect and appreciation. They said it was also purchased locally.
Full VA statement regarding decorations:
"To increase access to health care for Veterans, a new Health Care Center was constructed in Charlotte, NC. Artwork is one of the many facets that creates a healing environment for our Veterans. One of our goals is to create an atmosphere that welcomes them to the facility and VA, 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.
By evaluating and hand-selecting the artwork, we ensure that each piece will resonate with Veterans and keep them coming back to VA. The artwork package is a combination of nature, landscapes, and military photography that has been highly complimented and appreciated by staff, visitors, and most importantly the Veterans.
The Salisbury VA procured 1,112 pieces of artwork for the Charlotte Health Care Center at a total cost of $271,714.00, or $244.35 per piece. This artwork is spread throughout a five-story 420,000-square-foot health care center, including all patient-accessed corridors, exam rooms, consultation spaces, waiting areas, and all other public areas. Many of the pieces we select are from local and Veteran photographers. We also purchased this order through a Charlotte-based, Woman-Owned Small Business.
This company's manufacturing process is unique in that it enables us to provide artwork within patient care areas while upholding our strict standards of infection control.
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