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VA: 80 percent of senior executives got bonuses

By Matthew Daly

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:47 a.m. HST, Jun 20, 2014

WASHINGTON >> Nearly 80 percent of senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs got performance bonuses last year despite widespread treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals and clinics, a top official said Friday.

More than 350 VA executives were paid a total of $2.7 million in bonuses last year, said Gina Farrisee, assistant VA secretary for human resources and administration. That amount is down from about $3.4 million in bonuses paid in 2012, Farrisee said.

The totals do not include tens of millions of dollars in bonuses awarded to doctors, dentists and other medical providers throughout the VA's nearly 900 hospitals and clinics.

Workers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System -- where officials have confirmed dozens of patients died while awaiting treatment -- received about $3.9 million in bonuses last year, newly released records show. The merit-based bonuses were doled out to about 650 employees, including doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaning staff.

Farrisee defended the bonus system, telling the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the VA needs to pay bonuses to keep executives who are paid up to $181,000 per year.

"We are competing in tough labor markets for skilled personnel," Farrisee said Friday. "To remain competitive in recruiting and retaining the best personnel to serve our veterans, we must rely on tools such as incentives and awards that recognize superior performance."

Farrisee's testimony drew sharp rebukes by lawmakers from both parties.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the VA's bonus system "is failing veterans."

Instead of being given for outstanding work, the cash awards are "seen as an entitlement and have become irrelevant to quality work product," Miller said.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said awarding bonuses to 80 percent of executives means that the VA was setting the bar for performance so low that "anybody could step over it. If your metrics are low enough that almost everybody exceeds them, then your metrics are not very high."

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said the VA suffered from "grade inflation, or what (humorist) Garrison Keillor would refer to as 'all of the children are above average.'"

Kuster and other lawmakers said they found it hard to believe that 80 percent of senior employees could be viewed as exceeding expectations, given the growing uproar over patients dying while awaiting VA treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign three weeks ago.

Miller, the panel's chairman, noted that in the past four years, none of the VA's 470 senior executives have received ratings of minimally satisfactory or unsatisfactory, the two lowest ratings on the VA's five-tier evaluation system. Nearly 80 percent of senior executives were rated as outstanding or exceeding "fully successful," according to the VA.

"Based on this committee's investigations, outside independent reports and what we have learned in the last few months, I wholeheartedly disagree with VA's assessment of its senior staff," Miller said.

An updated audit released this week showed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. More than 56,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, the report said, and an additional 46,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never got them.

The VA has confirmed that dozens of veterans died while awaiting appointments at VA facilities in the Phoenix area, although officials say they can't tell whether the delays caused any of the deaths.

The VA's inspector general has said that the bonus system -- which has been suspended amid a criminal probe of wrongdoing at the agency -- contributed to the fake record-keeping, since employees knew that bonuses for senior managers and hospital directors were based in part on on-time performance.

Some 13 percent of VA schedulers surveyed by auditors reported being told by supervisors to falsify appointment records to make patient waits appear shorter.

The House and Senate have both approved legislation to make it easier to fire senior executives and hospital administrators. The House bill would ban performance bonuses, while the Senate would sharply limit them. Lawmakers say they hope to bring a compromise bill to the president before the July 4 recess.

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eoe wrote:
Oh wah, public sector people are performing badly and getting whopping $7000 bonuses, the humanity! The outrage! So, hey where was the conservative outcry when AIG gave $218 million in bonuses in 2009 after the financial meltdown, or the TARP-funded 3.6 BILLION given to Merril Lynch? Oh that's right its only bad when public sector employees get pittance bonuses but wreck the US economy and you should get millions.
on June 20,2014 | 09:54AM
AhiPoke wrote:
Is it possible that people can dislike both or are you defending the bonuses paid to federal employees who are already overpaid and underworked?
on June 20,2014 | 01:15PM
what wrote:
eoe, I think your version of history is inaccurate. Both sides of the political spectrum were outraged at the Wall Street bailout.
on June 20,2014 | 02:50PM
hilocal wrote:
@what: true of us ordinary people but not at the decision-makers' level of Congress and President.
on June 20,2014 | 04:27PM
tigerwarrior wrote:
Agreed. The root causes of the global financial crises was systemic--involving congress on both sides of the aisle--namely deregulation of the financial services industry. I'm a self-professed film buff, so I would recommend watching the documentaries: Inside Job, Frontline: Inside the Meltdown, The Warning, Frontline: Money, Power and Wall Street.
on June 20,2014 | 07:55PM
HD36 wrote:
When you had Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, an ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, screaming from the top of his lungs that the world financial systems would collapse if we didn't bail out all the mega casinos, and you had a Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, who wrote his dissertation of how the Great Depression could have been avoided by printing more money, together, it was a perfect combination to ruing the free market in favor of crony capitalism. Crony capitalism is the symbiotic relationship of corporations and government where both grow out of control at the expense of the taxpayer. The taxpayer, not only gets hit with inflation taxes from the increase in money supply, but also suffers from the effects of decreased competition. Fewer choices for the consumer, lower quality, and higher prices. Screwed from all angles, by an elite group that controls the Federal Reserve central bank and the many hidden corporations they own.
on June 20,2014 | 05:03PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Who do these people think they are? City and County of Honolulu workers?
on June 20,2014 | 01:39PM
iraku wrote:
Imagine if they were'nt checked on, they should give back all the bonuses that they didn't deserve. How long has this gone on? I'm not a veteran, but thank them for my everyday freedom they should get better CARE! More heads should roll because of this, time to clean house get people who can do the job.
on June 20,2014 | 01:40PM
meat wrote:
NO taxpayer money should be used for bonuses of ANY kind.
on June 20,2014 | 02:48PM
palani wrote:
And that goes for any public employee, federal, state, or local.
on June 21,2014 | 04:32AM
mfontz wrote:
How about giving more to the care do veterans instead of the managers? Over 1 million vets are now seeking help with their disabilities from Iraq and Afghanistan, but Congress won't increase the spending because it' said federal program that gets paid from taxes. We can't raise taxes to help our vets can we? The result is the long waiting times for theses newest to the system. And yes I am a veteran!
on June 21,2014 | 04:01AM
fiveo wrote:
Clearly the system is broken and the VA is just one of many government agencies out of control and its bureaucrats only interested in serving themselves and not the people they are supposed to be helping. The Federal government first of all, needs to stop paying bonuses. Why would you pay a worker a bonus for doing their job. Such things do not happen in local City or State government. It is no wonder that things are so out of control.
on June 20,2014 | 01:58PM
serious wrote:
fiveo--you are absolutely correct. Notice how the media is asking for Obama's head--not!!!!--if it were Bush--you bet!!!
on June 20,2014 | 02:20PM
hilocal wrote:
@serious. I don't see the media asking for either Obama's or Bush's head.
on June 20,2014 | 04:29PM
scuddrunner wrote:
That's what he said. Read it again.
on June 20,2014 | 07:21PM
mfontz wrote:
It' snot the workers, it's the managers getting these bonuses and they continue to hire more to solve the problem instead of doctors at a fair wage.
on June 21,2014 | 04:02AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Well I'm glad my dad and my mom are together in Punchbowl, as well as my grandfather and my grandmother, who are also together in Punchbowl (The National Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific). Rest in Peace, to my mom, 1930-2013, to my dad, 1929-1991, to my grandfather, 1897-1953 and to my grandmother, 1902-1996. Although my dad was a smoking drunken veteran who served in The Korean War, I still think about him everyday. As the number one born and won, I had to take the reins and lead our family.
on June 20,2014 | 02:54PM
GorillaSmith wrote:
It seems that the Obamatons winging for a "single payer" health care system are avoiding eye contact now that the VA has so vividly demonstrated how such a system would work.
on June 20,2014 | 03:32PM
hilocal wrote:
@GorillaSmith: huh? In single payer physicians are not government employees. Medicare is more like single payer, being the insurer but not the employer, not the owner of hospitals like the VA.
on June 20,2014 | 04:23PM
mfontz wrote:
Have you checked lately who's getting the bonuses at our private hospitals? You got it, the same positions. So single payer would not ne affected there. Check out why the US is in last place of developed countries in their health care and you'll see the same pattern of awarding the mangers and paying the workers less to achieve the bottom end of growth.
on June 21,2014 | 04:06AM
bumba wrote:
The saying "The Buck Stops Here" means exactly that. That's why Shinseki had to go, and that's why Obama has to go. With the problems surfacing about the VA, the IRS, Benghazi, et al, it's obvious the job is too overwhelming for our President. Sigh, I'm voting Republican next election, no matter who runs.
on June 20,2014 | 04:29PM
environmental_lady wrote:
So they get bonuses while the veterans languish. They rather pay themselves hefty salaries instead of spending the money on veterans health care. Sounds like veterans themselves don't run the administration. The whole rotten system stinks to high heaven!
on June 20,2014 | 04:34PM
kahuku01 wrote:
There should be no bonuses provided for any federal employee especially when these federal executives are already highly paid. There is something wrong with the system and congress is responsible for all these bonuses paid out year after year. There should be an established civilian hearing board and question these senators and representative for all the wrong doing of the taxpayers money. If there's a congressional committee used to question any wrong doing by federal employees, than why not have a civilian investigative committee comprised of highly intelligent civilians, drill and question congressional officials when there is a questioned topic committed by congress. The problem with our elected and appointed government officials is that they continue to think that they're invulnerable and there are so many wrong doing in our government. This $2.7 million paid in bonuses could have been allocated into the VA medical services.
on June 20,2014 | 04:52PM
HD36 wrote:
Not surprising at all. Anytime the government handles a function the free market could, there's usually fraud, waste and abuse. With no profit incentive and deficit funding, the tax payer has yet to feel the true cost of a $17.5 trillion national deficit. Soon, decades of abuse will be felt when the inflation tax hits Americans with higher food, energy and imports. It's high now, but what's to come will shock most Americans and leave the unprepared, unable to pay for the basics. What can't go on forever, won't.
on June 20,2014 | 04:53PM
false wrote:
The DAV says that VA it has over 300,000 backlogged veteran claims that have not been adjudicated, and there are much more. These veterans especially Korean and Vietnam vets deserve better. Also, vets are dying just waiting for a VA appointment. Yet we are giving the top civil servants (SES) bonuses that average $7,000 each for WHAT? I think that for each VA Clinic, veterans through the ebenefits website should rate their VA yearly and that rating should play a significant part of the performance ratings of SES, Doctors and Staff. Shinseki sure wasn't paying attention to detail and it's embarrassing. Veterans are dying at the root of the problem which is getting claims adjudicated by a system that many veterans are saying is broken!
on June 20,2014 | 05:28PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Shinseki was the guy in charge for over 5 years. I think that is the definition of failure.
on June 20,2014 | 06:19PM
SteveToo wrote:
Why do government employes get bonuses?
on June 20,2014 | 06:36PM
kahuku01 wrote:
It's a numbers game and high executives at a certain level are eligible to receive bonuses. How and why? It's is usually because of the highly motivated and productive labor force under the jurisdiction of that executive that reaches or excels the goals of the district or region.
on June 20,2014 | 06:47PM
paniolo wrote:
Even IRS people get bonuses. And a lot of them are delinquent in paying THEIR OWN taxes. SHAME...
on June 20,2014 | 06:57PM
sluggah wrote:
Hey! But they know how to get rid of a hard drive, though!
on June 20,2014 | 08:46PM
HD36 wrote:
It takes 6 private sector workers to support 1 government worker. Maybe the convoluted thinking is if we give government employees a bonus, they'll go out and spend it to keep the private sector guy working.
on June 20,2014 | 09:10PM
localguy wrote:
All you have to do is replace any VA reference with either a reference to an elected bureaucrat, city or state government employee, or any reference to BOE/DOE/HSTA and you have the exact same story. What local bureaucrat just got a $50k raise for doing absolutely nothing?
on June 20,2014 | 07:48PM
false wrote:
no matter what, this is wrong and this is what happens when government takes over. It's too big to monitor. No accountability. Repeal Obamacare cause this is what will happen.
on June 20,2014 | 09:29PM
mfontz wrote:
Congress has for years wanted to make all Federal businesses run like private ones, this is a result of their own policies. And now they're complaining? Doesn't every business have two sets of legal books, one for taxes and one for the stock market? This is the VA's version of the two book system, nothing wrong with that is it?
on June 21,2014 | 03:57AM
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