Fla. congressman says VA ads that ran in San Diego was a waste of taxpayer money

SAN DIEGO - A lawmaker is pressing for an explanation after a multi-million dollar ad campaign for the Veterans Affairs Department ran in San Diego and other media markets during the government shutdown.

The 6-week, multi-million dollar ad campaign reached out to veterans, reminding them of services like VA loans and education benefits.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is demanding a full accounting from the agency on what ads ran and when.

A spokesperson told 10News the ads seemed "ill-timed" and "counterproductive" because the shutdown reduced VA services.

For instance, an ad mentions the GI Bill as a benefit, but anyone calling the VA hotline to ask about the benefits found that nobody was answering the hotline.

"I'm sure there's something more foolish that government does, but this is way up there," Richard Rider, who heads to group San Diego Tax Fighters.

The longtime taxpayer advocate says he can't believe the ad campaign ran for two weeks during the shutdown -- an opinion echoed in memos sent from Miller to the head of the VA, Secretary Eric Shinseki.

In it, Miller notes that the $5 million campaign has run during NFL games and baseball playoff games, and markets like San Diego.

Rider also points out the ad campaign looked bad because vet benefits were no sure thing during the shutdown.

"To throw money away, when we weren't even certain up to 24 hours ago, that we could issue benefit checks, that's just wrong," said Rider.

In response, the VA argues the mission of general outreach could still be accomplished during the furloughs.

In a statement, the VA said:

 "The VA deserves praise, not criticism, for its strategic decision to keep these outreach ads on air even during a shutdown. it shows that, despite myriad troubles facing the department, helping veterans rightfully remains its top priority."

The VA points out the ad campaign was paid for before the shutdown, but ad experts told 10News it's not uncommon for advertisers to put a campaign on pause for a few weeks if something comes up.

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