Clearwater, FL -- There is anger and disappointment ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs coming under fire -- again.
It's all in reaction to a report exposing just how much money the agency has spent to repair its image instead of using the same money to repair a system that's left so many waiting for medical care.
“That's real wrong. That shouldn't be,” said Michael Childs, a veteran and VA client of nearly 40 years.
Childs and others were outraged by a new study from a government watchdog group called openthebooks.com.
Between 2012 and 2015, just under 10% of the approximately 39,000 people hired by the VA were doctors.
The same report found the VA had spent $1.7 million on surveys, nearly $800 million on furniture, and $300 million on jobs like interior designers, gardeners and painters.
And most upsetting for many, the revelation that agency also spent millions of dollars on damage control.
Nearly half a billion dollars on lawyers. Another $100 million on public relations.
“That's really sad,” said Childs, “Because it's not going to fix anything that way.”
U.S. Rep. David Jolly, representing Florida’s 13th District, called it disappointing.
“And it feeds into the narrative and the suspicion about mismanagement at the very top of the VA,” said Jolly.
Jolly says Congress specifically funded the VA's request for more money with assurances that the agency would use the money to hire physicians, health care providers and insurance processors who would fix the log-jam.
“And so I think it's obvious they've now used resources to hire more lawyers to protect their image than physicians to care for veterans. And that's a shame,” said Rep. Jolly.
Fortunately, several veterans say Tampa Bay area VA hospitals appear to be working harder to meet their needs.
“The VA saved my life twice,” said Ron Brown, a disabled U.S. Veteran, “Once in Tampa and once in Bay Pines.”
The timing of the report coincides with a recent, comment from VA Secretary Robert McDonald comparing wait-times at the VA to long lines at Disneyland -- widely considered insensitive.
In a statement, the VA did not directly address the report's scathing criticism.
The agency said, in-part, it “Continues to aggressively pursue the recruitment of high caliber candidates for all vacancies including physicians, nurses, and clinicians."
“There's certain things they need. Doctors, nurses and hospitals, and proper equipment,” said Army Veteran Marcelino Julio. “That's where the money should go.”