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VA halts new spending on criticized ad campaign

Oct. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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A key lawmaker is pressing the Veterans Affairs Department to cancel $5 million in television and radio advertising, saying the expense seems inappropriate at a time when the almost 10,000 VA workers are furloughed and there is concern about whether veterans will receive Nov. 1 benefits checks.

He’s too late — the ad campaign has already ended.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a Oct. 14 letter that the expense of ad campaigns in 20 media markets over the past six weeks are “ill-timed” and suggests VA “redirect” the money toward “higher priorities.”

But VA officials said the ads, purchased in early September, ended last weekend after their scheduled six-week run.

Miller complained the advertising, aimed at encouraging veterans to check out VA resources and benefits, is “counterproductive” because the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1 at the start of the fiscal year has reduced VA services.

Veterans seeking services “may find the agency unresponsive,” he said. For example, an advertisement mentions the GI Bill as a benefit available to veterans, but anyone calling VA to ask questions about the education program will find that nobody is answering the toll-free line.

Miller had earlier raised questions about $1 million in VA spending on advertising in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. But his staff later found similar ads in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Diego, and 14 other markets purchased at the end of fiscal 2013 with existing funds and scheduled to run over about six weeks.

The markets were chosen because of their large veterans populations and low rates of VA health care enrollment, officials said.

Congress and the White House are working on a debt and spending agreement that could end the government shutdown as early as Thursday. VA could not launch another ad campaign until funding is provided.

VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said the ads are part of a comprehensive outreach campaign “in an effort to inform veterans of the benefits and services they have earned and deserved.”

The funds came from appropriations that were going to lapse at the end of last fiscal year, Dillon said.

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