Sununu sides with Portsmouth firm in VA billing dispute

Gov. Chris Sununu has urged the U.S. Veterans Administration Friday to honor a billing order it had placed with the Gigunda Group of Portsmouth to deliver gloves to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here Sununu and Dean Kamen, posed with VA officials, FedEx staff, Army National Guard officials, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in August 2020 after a Boeing 777 plane arrived from China with 450,000 gowns for VA facilities across the country.

After pressure from Sen. Maggie Hassan and Gov. Chris Sununu, the VA continues to deny it is obliged to buy medical gloves from a Portsmouth publicity agency, after the company said the former VA head asked for help procuring protective gear.

Gigunda Group, a Portsmouth agency that runs publicity stunts for consumer brands, including depositing a crate of Pop-Tarts on a University of New Hampshire quad and building a temporary Charmin toilet-paper branded public restroom in New York’s Times Square, was one of many unconventional companies that helped states and the federal government procure protective gear in the early days of the pandemic.

In October 2020, the former Veterans Affairs secretary reached out to the company’s leaders to ask if they could help find large quantities of nitrile gloves for the VA. It is not clear if there was any written contract between the agency and the company.

Gigunda bought 20 million gloves in early 2021, but VA did not take the gloves or pay Gigunda.

The company did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Hassan wrote to the VA in September, pushing for an “amicable resolution” to the dispute. Sununu followed with a terse letter in October, demanding the VA take the gloves and pay Gigunda.

This week, the VA responded, and continued to deny that it was obliged to buy gloves from Gigunda.

“(T)here is no evidence that it (the VA) entered into a contract with Gigunda to provide gloves,” read a statement from the VA. “Therefore, as asserted in the letter to Gigunda dated July 1, 2021, VA is neither contractually obligated nor authorized to purchase 500 million gloves from Gigunda Group, LLC.”

In a statement, Sununu said he thought the VA’s response was “bureaucratic” and “tone-deaf,” and criticized the Biden administration generally.

Hassan spokeswoman Laura Epstein said the senator was frustrated with the VA’s response, and said she would push for more information.