When French Cubist George Braque famously said that “art is a wound turned into light,” he didn’t have the Department of Veterans Affairs in mind.
The VA spent more than $362,000 on artwork for its Biloxi hospital in 19 separate transactions since 2008, including periods when many veterans were waiting for extended periods to receive care, according to an examination of records found by Open the Books, a non-profit, financial transparency organization.
The VA Public affairs officer in Biloxi, Mary Kay Gominger, says the purchases were part of the new construction required after the medical center’s campus was devastated by the winds and floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Those upgrades and additions included an expansion of the medical center, a new mental health facility, a rehabilitation center for blind patients, an extended-care facility, a kitchen, a laundry facility, a parking garage and utility upgrades.
The VA purchased artwork worth more than $47,400 in 2008, more than $246,900 in 2011 and more than $68,000 as part of $153 million in construction on the VA’s 100-acre medical facility on Biloxi’s Back Bay. The art was purchased from Artmoxm Inc. of Harbor City, California, which has received several other contracts to supply framed artwork for VA buildings.
The art purchases are particularly galling considering the 2014 VA waiting time scandal, in which a nationwide audit found that 57,000 veterans, many of whom with life-threatening conditions, were waiting more than three months to be seen.
Gominger stressed that the art purchases came from construction funds, not from operating funds used for patient care, an argument that didn’t impress U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi.
“I am troubled to learn of these extravagant art purchases at the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Wicker said. “All available resources should be focused on reducing medical wait times and expediting benefit claims for the men and women who have served our country in uniform.”
- A$1,149,335 at the Palo Alto, California, VA hospital, which included more than $670,000 for a sculpture and an exterior wall facade at a center for the blind.
- A $100,000 “Ribbons of Honor” glass sculpture at the Anchorage, Alaska, facility.
- A 27-foot Christmas tree for $21,000 at the San Francisco VA facility.
This story was changed to reflect the art purchase in Anchorage