Lawmakers outraged over VA bonuses

Lawmakers on Friday ripped into the Veterans Affairs Department for giving bonuses to executives as veterans waited weeks or months to get treatment.

Republicans and Democrats on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee said the bonuses contributed to a corrupt system that led officials to tamper with wait lists in order to hide long waiting times for veterans to receive care.

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Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the panel’s chairman, said department data showed that, between fiscal years 2010 and 2013, not a single one of the VA’s 470 senior executives was rated unsuccessful in their performance review.

“Instead of using bonuses as an award for outstanding work on behalf of our veterans, cash rewards are seen as an entitlement and have become irrelevant to quality work product,” Miller said.

“Bonuses are not an entitlement,” Miller said. “They are a reward for exceptional work.”

An investigation by the VA has found that hundreds of veterans waited months for treatment at VA facilities. The probe, which led VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, also found evidence that waiting lists had been tampered with to show that patients received care within a 14-day waiting time target.

Senior executives received cash rewards, in part, based on their ability to meet the agency’s 14-day patient wait time. Acting VA chief Sloan Gibson has since put a freeze on all bonuses at the department.

Gina Farrisee, the VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration, told Miller’s panel on Friday that, if the VA had known about the tampering, it is “unlikely” bonuses would have been granted.

Farrissee came under tough questioning from Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who argued that the department is “only effective at writing bonus checks to each other.”

He charged that Farrisee, a 34-year Army veteran, “ought to be outraged” but “it’s all about the status quo to you.”

“This is the most mismanaged agency in the federal government,” said Coffman, who concluded that Farrisee should be fired. He did not give her a chance to respond.

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said “lying to get a bonus flies in the face of our values as Americans.”

He also demanded that patient satisfaction, not patient wait times, factor into how bonuses are awarded, saying the VA needs a “drastic cultural change.”

Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) said most of the panel did not have “faith” in the metrics being applied at the department.

Farrisee said that prior to 2014, the VA did not have an automated system to look at and track bonuses across the department. She promised better oversight now that the system is in place.