VA secretary defends paying out $142M in bonuses

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The secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is defending doling out more than $142 million in bonuses to officials last year, despite the scandal in 2014 involving the deaths of veterans waiting for care at agency clinics.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald, writing in USA Today on Tuesday, said the performance awards help the agency “retain top talent.”

“VA competes for workers from the public and private sectors,” he wrote. “We hold them accountable for achieving results in their performance plans and making significant contributions to fulfilling our honored mission — caring for veterans.”

He said cutting back on bonuses “would be a mistake, negatively impacting veterans and our ability to attract top talent.”

Roughly 156,000 executives, managers and employees received bonuses in 2014. The average payout was more than $900.

Officials who are managing the construction of a Denver facility, which is more than $1 billion over budget and nearly four years behind schedule, received bonuses ranging from $4,000 to $8,000.

Another executive, who was the subject of a report detailing mismanagement at a facility in St. Cloud, Minn., also took home a reward of $4,000 for his work.

McDonald said the “vast majority of employees at the VA provide America’s veterans exceptional service.”

“Occasionally we make errors; those deserve more scrutiny,” he added.

Concerned Veterans for America said McDonald’s defense of the bonuses shows that he “doesn’t understand the problems plaguing the VA.”

“Rather than encouraging innovation and exceptional performance, granting bonuses to incompetent and unethical employees demoralizes the overwhelming majority of VA personnel who are committed to giving veterans the best care possible,” the group said in a statement.

Before his resignation last year, then-Sec. Eric Shinseki suspended bonuses for senior-level employees at the agency.

Tags Eric Shinseki

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