Lawmakers Want Veterans Affairs Leaders’ Bonuses Returned

Lawmakers say some big bonuses paid to leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs should be returned amid the recent scandal over performance and wait times.

The News4 I-Team reviewed the list of bonuses paid in February that the House Veterans Affairs Committee released Monday.

Overall, the VA paid more than $2.8 million in performance awards, including at hospitals where long treatment delays were found for veterans.

A number of D.C. employees also received bonuses, including the man in charge of the VA's response to the recent scandal. Dr. Robert Jesse received almost $9,000. He resigned as acting VA undersecretary last month.

"The VA secretary has the authority to rescind these bonuses anytime within a year of when they are paid, and I am calling on him to take action where he deems appropriate," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller said in a statement released Monday.

“I would like to say I was shocked by these bonuses, but unfortunately this is par for the course at the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA’s sordid bonus culture is a symptom of a much bigger organizational problem: The department’s extreme reluctance to hold employees and executives accountable for mismanagement that harms veterans. In fact, if you look at recent VA preventable deaths, patient safety issues and backlog increases in Phoenix and other locations around the country, VA executives who presided over negligence and corruption are more likely to have received a bonus or glowing performance review than any sort of punishment. When pressed on this clear lack of consequences, department officials have pointed to non-disciplinary actions, such as employee transfers, resignations and retirements, or bureaucratic slaps on the wrist, such as temporary written warnings, in a disingenuous attempt to create the illusion of accountability. Such semantic sleights of hand are insulting to the veterans seeking care at the department and their families as well as the taxpayers who fund VA’s operations. Until department leaders take steps to ensure VA employees and executives are adequately punished rather than rewarded for corruption and substandard care, it is simply illogical to think the pattern of preventable deaths and patient safety incidents at VA medical centers across the country will subside. The VA secretary has the authority to rescind these bonuses anytime within a year of when they were paid, and I am calling on the him to take this action where he deems appropriate.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

A VA spokesman told the I-Team the department suspended all senior executive performance awards for Fiscal Year 2014 and remains committed to enforcing accountability among leaders and getting veterans off waitlists.

Statement from VA spokesman:

VA has suspended all VHA senior executive performance awards for Fiscal Year 2014. Acting Secretary Gibson is committed to using all authority at VA’s disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders.

Our top priority remains getting Veterans off of wait lists and into clinics and providing Veterans the quality care and benefits they have earned and deserve. We know that unacceptable, systemic problems and cultural issues within our health system prevent Veterans from receiving timely care. We can and must solve these problems as we work to earn back the trust of the Veterans we serve.

Fiscal Year 2013 ratings were determined by individual performance and organizational results based on the standards in individual performance plans, with information available at the time.


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