On Tuesday morning, Mast, R-Palm City, visited the facility in Riviera Beach with photos of Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Mast asked a VA employee to hang the portraits in the hospital’s lobby.
Mast and the veterans left happy, but later in the day, VA officials took the pictures down. The move enraged the vets who visited the hospital with Mast, and the dispute received national coverage on Fox News on Wednesday.
The VA says the empty spot where the presidential portrait is displayed is a matter of protocol, not politics. The hospital said Mast’s delivery of pictures didn’t pass muster.
“While we appreciate his visit, they were not obtained through official channels,” said Kenita Gordon, public affairs officer at the VA hospital in Riviera Beach. “We couldn’t authenticate them.”
That explanation doesn’t sit well with John Rourke, a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Army who recently retired from the service and lives in Jupiter Farms. Rourke accompanied Mast to the hospital on Tuesday, and he said the VA should honor the request of a sitting Congressman.
“It doesn’t get any more official than that,” Rourke said.
Mast is a veteran and a double amputee who goes to the VA hospital in Riviera Beach for medical care.
“Especially after so many veterans contacted me about this issue, it is disappointing to see resistance from the VA over hanging the portrait of both the commander in chief as well as the secretary of the VA,” Mast said in a statement.
Rourke said the delay in displaying a presidential portrait is symbolic of larger woes at the VA. He said he and other veterans frequently sit in VA waiting rooms for four hours or longer before they’re seen by doctors.
“It’s a microcosm of the problems at the VA,” Rourke said. “If they can’t get a picture correct, how can they get my health care correct?”
But Gordon said many other government facilities are still awaiting their official presidential portraits.
“This is not something that’s specific to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center or to the VA,” she said.
And she recalled a similar blank spot on the wall in 2008, after Barack Obama took office. An official portrait didn’t arrive until about three months after Obama’s inauguration, Gordon said.