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VA Hands Out $142 Million in Bonuses in 2014

The VA doled out more than $142 million in bonuses to executives and employees for performance in 2014 even as scandals over veterans’ health care and other issues racked the agency.

USA Today Article –

Among the recipients were claims processors in a Philadelphia benefits office that investigators dubbed the worst in the country last year. They received $300 to $900 each. Managers in Tomah, Wis., got $1,000 to $4,000, even though they oversaw the over-prescription of opiates to veterans – one of whom died.

The VA also rewarded executives who managed construction of a facility in Denver, a disastrous project years overdue and more than $1 billion over budget. They took home $4,000 to $8,000 each. And in St. Cloud, Minn., where an internal investigation report last year outlined mismanagement that led to mass resignations of health care providers, the chief of staff cited by investigators received a performance bonus of almost $4,000.

As one of his final acts last year before resigning, then-VA secretary Eric Shinseki announced he was suspending bonuses in the wake of revelations that VA employees falsified wait lists to meet wait-time targets — ostensibly to get the extra pay. But he only curtailed them for a sliver of VA executives — those in the Veterans Health Administration, which oversees health care.

The agency has continued to pay performance-based bonuses to nearly half of agency employees, including in health administration, the data show. In all, some 156,000 executives, managers and employees received them for 2014 performance, according to data provided to USA TODAY by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

VA spokesman James Hutton said the vast majority of the employees are committed to serving veterans, and he said VA leaders are still working to change the agency’s culture.

“VA will continue to review tools and options in order to ensure the department is able to attract and retain the best talent to serve our nation’s veterans, while operating as a good steward of taxpayer funds,” Hutton said.

That’s not good enough for Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House VA committee, which has been investigating questionable VA bonuses for years. Miller says the most recent awards reflect a continued, “disturbing trend of rewarding employees who preside over corruption and incompetence.”

He noted the agency paid more than $380,000 in 2013 performance bonuses to top officials at hospitals where veterans faced long delays in receiving treatment, including those under investigation for wait-time manipulation.

“Rewarding failure only breeds more failure,” he said Tuesday. “Until VA leaders learn this important lesson and make a commitment to supporting real accountability at the department, efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail.”

Miller spearheaded – and the House passed – a measure last year that would have eliminated bonuses for VA senior executives for five years. But ultimately the House and Senate compromised on legislation that still allows the VA to hand out up to $360 million annually to executives, managers and employees.

Overall, the agency awarded $276 million in incentives in 2014, including retention and relocation payments, rewards for saving money on travel and coming up with inventive ideas, according to committee data.

The cash bonuses of $142.5 million were tied to performance reviews. Employees were eligible to receive the lump-sum, cash payments for ratings of “fully successful” or higher. The payments ranged from $8 to as much as $12,705. Most were more than $500. The average payout was $909.

NAUS Note: In the middle of scandals and massive criticism for manipulation of wait times, large backlogs of disability claims and accusations against senior VA executives for “gaming” the system in transferring VISN directors and then taking those jobs, the VA continued to hand out bonuses. Why? for NOT getting their names implicated in any controversy? Or just a carry-over of the VA culture of indifference?

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