Another Outrage at VA.
While both the number and the waiting times for Veterans filing disability claims skyrocketed in the past few years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) routinely paid out millions of dollars in cash bonuses to top executives.
Internal VA documents obtained exclusively by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) reveal how top career officials with the most responsibility for addressing claim delay and error crisis at the Veterans Benefits Administration received the largest bonuses for the past several years.
It’s about time VA stopped rewarding employees and managers for falling behind
CIR reports that in 2011, when the backlog of disability claims grew by nearly 300,000, the VA granted performance awards worth as much as $23,091 to several top VBA executives. Specifically, CIR mentioned that VA paid $23,091 to both Lois Mittelstaedt and Diana Rubens – two top executives reporting to Undersecretary Allison Hickey at VBA.
Local newspapers quickly pounced on VA’s new scandal.
- At Pittsburgh’s VA system, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that top regional directors received bonuses of more than $12,000 each for fiscal 2011, despite a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease which sickened 21 patients and led to five deaths.
- At Atlanta’s VA Medical Center, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the former top administrator received $65,000 in performance bonuses over a four-year span as internal audits revealed lengthy wait times for mental health care and mismanagement that led to three deaths.
The VA’s bonus scandal, which was also picked up by Military.com and Stars & Stripes, led House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), to fume: “It’s about time VA stopped rewarding employees and managers for falling behind. One can only wonder what effect this sort of policy may have had if VA had instituted it years ago.”
Reacting a new onslaught press coverage, VA announced no bonuses would be given for the 2012-13 fiscal year. “Instead the funds will be reinvested to accelerate the elimination of the backlog,” the VA said.
Congress is paying close attention the widening scandal. On Thursday, 26 members of Congress who also happen to be military veterans called on President Obama to enact bold reforms to fix the broken claims system. The letter notes that the VA is “on the wrong track” and in need of “capable leadership.”
Meantime, Federal News Radio reports that VA deputy Secretary Scott Gould is leaving his position. There appeared to be no connection between the bonus scandal and his departure.