Dozens of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care facilities lack required levels of cleanliness due to shortage of custodial staff even as ranks of public relations experts fatten up, according to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).
The troubled departments accounting and grant-management records are also severely lacking, Ernst said in a statement made available to The Epoch Times late Thursday.
“Ensuring sanitary conditions and practicing good hygiene is absolutely critical to the safety and health of our veterans and their caregivers, especially during COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 VA patients and more than 40 VA employees,” Ernst said.
“But staff shortages at the VA have been a problem long before this pandemic. VA facilities have been cited for inconsistent levels of cleanliness and lack of cleanliness,” Ernst said.
As a result, Ernst named VA as the latest recipient of her Squeal Award, a highly unsought-after prize the Iowa Republican gives to government departments and agencies exhibiting waste, fraud, and inefficiency.
Ernst is the first U.S. Army female combat veteran ever elected to the Senate.
The VA has been the subject of multiple scandals and investigations in the past decade due to thousands of veterans being unable to secure timely treatment, sometimes with a fatal result, government officials falsifying treatment and appointment records, and wasteful spending on questionable employee conferences.
Among President Donald Trumps priorities early in his term was securing congressional approval of expedited firing authority for VA leaders to weed out incompetent and dishonest employees.
Citing a March 2020 report from the VAs Inspector General, Ernst pointed to “the importance of our essential workers. Each and every day, they get up and go to work to keep our country moving.
“But right now, there arent enough of these front-line workers at VA. The VA is also suffering from severe custodial and cleaning staff shortages, which is putting the lives of our veterans at risk during a global pandemic.”
Ernst faulted VA officials for failing to respond to the IGs warnings about staff shortages in the housecleaning area, and, based on a new analysis by the non-profit government watchdog Open the Books, she claimed more attention has been paid by decision-makers in the departments senior ranks to “cleaning up its public appearance.”
“In fact, the VA public affairs staff size increased by 25 percent since 2012, with the department spending more than $30 million for 329 public affairs officers,” Ernst said.
“The VA is also paying almost $14 million for 181 interior decorators and over $9 million on 189 gardeners. Nearly $20 million of Iowa taxpayers hard-earned dollars were even spent on artwork to decorate VA buildings.
“This is the federal agency that is supposed to care for our nations heroes, and instead were focused on gardens and decorations? Give me a break.”
Ernst recalled that she offered an amendment to a VA appropriations bill in 2016 prohibiting the use of tax dollars to purchase art or pay for art-related consultants.
“Congress instead chose to sweep the waste under the rug. Are you surprised,” she said. “It is appalling that instead of using $20 million of taxpayer money to reduce the backlog and ensure quality and timely care for our veterans, the VA chose to spend that money on decorative artwork.”