A high-dollar television advertising campaign funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs has run in at least 20 top media markets at a cost of more than $5 million, according to the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., last week challenged the veterans' department to explain why it was spending $1 million to run the TV ads in the Washington, D.C., area even as the agency was preparing to furlough thousands of workers and suspend disability payments to veterans because of the partial government shutdown.
Subsequent research by the House committee staff determined the ad ran in at least 20 major television markets at a cost of more than $5 million since mid-September.
The ad has run in Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Diego, in addition to Washington, D.C., and other large metro areas, according to Miller.
Spending money on an outreach campaign makes even less sense as the agency begins closing offices that process disability claims and suspending payments to veterans, he said.
“It strikes me as counterproductive to continue an outreach campaign to veterans who, if they were to contact certain elements of VA, may find the agency unresponsive in light of the shutdown,” Miller said in a Monday letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
“Considering these facts, I call on you to cease this ill-timed advertisement campaign and redirect savings toward higher priorities in service to America’s veterans,” Miller said.
The feel-good ad features a woman recounting her family’s multi-generational service in the military and some of the benefits they received over the years through the agency.
“Every generation of my family has served, and VA has served us all,” the ad concludes.
Shinseki told Miller's committee last week that disability benefits to about 3.8 million veterans will cease by Nov. 1 unless a deal is reached to fund the government and end the shutdown.
Health programs run by VA, which make up about 80 percent of the agency’s spending and personnel, are largely immune from the budget impasse because they were pre-funded before the new federal fiscal year began Oct. 1.
A VA spokesman said in a written statement to the Washington Examiner that the ads were paid for before the federal shutdown, and the staff on Miller’s committee was briefed about the media campaign on Sept. 5. VA is required by law to conduct outreach to veterans to provide them information about available benefits.
The ads ran from Sept. 9 through last weekend, according to VA. The agency did not provide a total cost of the ad buy, nor dispute Miller’s $5 million figure.
Markets were chosen because they have large veteran populations and low enrollment rates in VA health care programs.
“This VA outreach campaign is part of a comprehensive effort to inform Veterans of the benefits and services they have earned and deserved, in line with VA’s obligation to conduct outreach to Veterans,” the statement read. “Funds for the advertisements currently running were all obligated prior to the lapse in appropriations."