VA Executive Bonuses Under Attack Because of Claims Backlogs, Healthcare Problems

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON — A House committee has voted to ban VA senior executives from receiving any bonuses for five years, citing claims backlogs and unresolved healthcare quality issues.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) introduced the provision as an amendment to the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013. According to a written statement, the amendment “comes in response to a rash of recent media reports documenting how numerous VA senior executives have received sizeable performance bonuses, despite presiding over significant increases in benefits claim backlogs and even patient deaths.”

One of those controversies concerns the Atlanta VAMC, where a former top administrator received a bonus despite lapses in the facility’s mental-health programs, which led to multiple deaths.

“The fact that so many VA executives collected huge performance bonuses year after year while continually failing at their jobs calls into question whether department leaders even know the meaning of the word ‘accountability,’” Miller said in the statement. “Unfortunately, it’s taken the national crisis that is the benefits backlog and a media firestorm surrounding the department’s bonus scandal for VA leaders to realize that rewarding failure only breeds more failure.”

The provision was approved by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. In order to become law the bill would need approval by the full House and the Senate.

The introduction of the bill comes after VA announcement thatno senior executives in the Veterans Benefits Administration will receive performance awards for fiscal year 2012.

“Performance awards take into account both individual and overall organizational performance goals,” a VA statement explained. “Based on organizational performance goals, all senior executives in the Veterans Benefits Administration will not receive performance awards for fiscal year 2012. Instead, the funds will be reinvested to accelerate elimination of the backlog.

In addition, according to the VA statement, FY 2012 performance awards for some other VA senior executives, including some in the Veterans Health Administration, “have been deferred pending further review and are not being paid at this time.”

The agency explained that, in FY 2009 and 2010, it made “significant program management improvements to ensure the VA executive performance program is consistent with law and regulation.” According to VA, the amount paid for executive performance awards decreased from $3.3 million in 2009 to $2.3 million in FY 2012.

“The highest executive performance award in 2009 was 17.5% of salary; for FY 2012, VA’s highest performance award was 9% of salary. VA spent less than the statutory limit on performance awards for career [senior executives] since 2008,” the statement said.

Despite the VA announcement, bonuses continue to be an ongoing controversy. Last month, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. was critical of reports that VISN 4 Director Michael Moreland received a five-figure Presidential Rank award despite a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and “other whistleblower retaliation concerns in his region.”

“We’ve seen this time and time again at the VA; frontline employees are forced to do more with less, while agency executives are pulling in bonuses despite mismanagement, retaliation and intimidation of employees under their watch,” he said in a written statement.

Also questioning VA bonuses was Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). Huelskamp asked Glenn Haggstrom, who serves as principal executive director in VA’s office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, whether he thought he deserved annual bonuses in light of a GAO report highlighting construction delays and cost overruns of VA medical facilities.

“According to the records I have in 2009, you received a $20,470 bonus. In 2010, you received an $18,022 bonus, and in 2011 you received a $16,300 bonus. All on top of your base pay,” Huelskamp said at a recent hearing. “Given this GAO report and what we’ve heard here, do you really think you deserved those bonuses?”

Haggstrom replied that the bonuses were not of his “own doing.”

“Congressman, those bonuses were not determined by myself,” he said. “Those bonuses were determined by my supervisors and the senior leadership at VA and, with all due respect, I’d ask you to take that up with them.”

Claims Backlog

Meanwhile, in addition to announcing that nosenior executives in the Veterans Benefits Administration will receive performance awards for fiscal year 2012, the VA also announced that it is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices in order to accelerate the elimination of the backlog.

According to a VA news release, the mandatory overtime will be implemented through the end of fiscal year 2013 and the additional overtime hours will be used to help eliminate the backlog “with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless veterans and those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing fully-developed claims.”

“VA is dedicated to providing veterans with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki in a written statement. “This increased overtime initiative will provide more veterans with decisions on their claims and will help us achieve our goal of eliminating the claims backlog.”

 

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  1. Richard Haas says:

    I am a Veteran from a line of Veterans, who joined to do his duty for a country of which he loved! I entered the service healthy as a horse and been deteriorating in health every since! On 11/03/2010 I submitted a claim to increase the rating on my right knee, and reevaluate my left shoulder, left knee, and back for a disability benefit rating as well! I presented proof of my lt. shoulder & knee injuries, ignored permanent profiles, accident in Ak., and a note from my VA PCP stating my total & permanent disability unable to maintain gainful employment! After waiting over three years I was denied & immediately appealed! Received denial in late April 2013 on May 2 2013 I hand delivered my appeal but only recorded it as a Freedom of Information Act / Privacy Act Request and didn’t record the appeal until 06/25/2013 which I am still waiting on!

    Since then I learned that extreme cold like I was exposed to daily at Ft. Wainwright for three winters could cause my conditions e.g. Advanced Peripheral Neuropathy , also that the swine flu shot I was forced to take in 77 after a severe negative reaction in 76 , then in 78 it was discontinued due to high rate of GBS! Also that when they x rayed my feet at my exit exam from the service was a sign of Neuropathy! Then around 2014 I learned that both Ft. Wainwright & Ft. Greely were both EPA superfund sites Wainwright among other things AO & Greely for radiation leeks both forts I was all around on a regular basis! So with my appeal I submitted this info. as well as a statement from my VA PCP saying that my illnesses and conditions were more likely than not due to my military service injuries! As all documents I seen about VA disability must be granted if deemed more likely than not caused by the military!

    Yet every time I’ve tried to contact my VA disability rep. He’s either out of area or been replaced but his replacement not in yet! Then when I call the VA 800 # and ask about my case then appeal I’m told to be patient, then I say I have been! They then respond well it takes up to 352 days sir, I respond it’s been since 2010 or 2013 they all respond the same, Well sir sometimes it takes more for special circumstances! Every time they always take time to talk with somebody before they respond to me!

    As far as the VA hosp. ours was a great medical facility until the swap of VA leadership then it went into the toilet and became just as terrible as everyone was talking about! Before I had appointments within a week or two, now every time have to use the new choice program which is a bigger joke! Once you’re noticed of a appointment with a VA Dr. that requested a week or two earlier already is going to be 60 to 90 days from now you must mention the choice program! Then they say they’ll put in for a consult and someone from the program will call you within a week (usually have to call them), when you do get with them they just say they have to put into the system and to call the choice # about 24 hrs. later! Usually when you call 24 to 48 hrs. later they don’t have you in, but when they do all they do on this call is to ask you your preferences then tell you someone will call you in a week to schedule the appt.! When you’ve waited a wk. & a half and call they tell you they’ll put in another request, which usually will produce a call within 24 to 48 hrs.! Then when they do call they once again ask your preferences and tell you once again tell you someone will call once the appt. is set! As you see it takes at least a month before they even make the outside appt. that was being done in the first place because of a VA appt. taking 30 days or longer! Then in one case after going through all that the woman at the hosp. said I couldn’t be seen w/o a Dr. signature even though I gave her the choice approval #!

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