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Lawmaker: VA's pricy TV ads don't look right during a shutdown

Oct. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki can expect questions Wednesday about a $1 million television advertising campaign that a key congressman says looks excessive during a government shutdown.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said television ads started running in early September but didn’t stop when a partial government shutdown took effect at the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs has continued to run a costly advertising campaign, including expensive television commercials during National Football League games and Major League Baseball playoffs,” Miller said in a letter sent to Shinseki late Tuesday.

Miller did not directly call this wasteful spending.

VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon defended the TV ad campaign, saying it “is part of a comprehensive effort to inform veterans of the benefits and services they have earned and deserved” The expenditure is “in line with VA’s obligation to conduct outreach to veterans,” she said.

All of the money for the ads was obligated before the government shutdown, with the Washington metropolitan area chosen because it has a large population of veterans and low enrollment in the veterans’ health care system.

VA officials are perplexed by Miller’s questions because his staff was briefed about the outreach campaign on Sept. 5, four days before the ads starting running

Shinseki will testify before Miller’s committee on Wednesday morning to talk about the impact of the government shutdown on veterans programs and benefits.

Miller said he knows television ads are appearing in the Washington, D.C., television market but wants to know where else advertising is appearing and the cost. Specficially, he wants to see contracts for television, radio, internet and print media ads that require payments after Sept. 30, 2013, which was the end of fiscal 2013.

Miller’s questions come after another lawmaker, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, questioned $526,000 spent on artwork at the end of fiscal 2013. VA has not yet responded to Moran’s request for details on the art purchase.

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