Despite scandals, VA pays execs, employees $142M in bonuses

Kim Graves, Director of the VA's St. Paul Regional Benefits office testifies before Congress. Photo Credit: Twitter

While controversies over veteran’s health care and other issues still plague the VA, the agency  rewarded employees, managers and executives with cash bonuses tied to performance reviews in 2014.

The agency doled out more than $142 million in cash bonuses while overall, $276 million was awarded in incentives in 2014 for things like: retention and relocation payments, rewards for saving money on travel and coming up with inventive ideas.

In Philadelphia, where the VA benefits office was deemed worst in the country last year, claims processors reportedly received $300-$900 each in bonuses.

In one of his last acts as VA secretary before resigning, Eric Shinseki announced he was suspending bonuses, following revelations that employees falsified wait lists to meet wait-time targets. But he only cut the bonuses for a portion of VA executives — those in senior levels of the Veterans Health Administration.

VA officials say, no top senior executives in the VHA received bonuses.

According to data provided to USA TODAY by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the agency continues to pay performance-based bonuses to “nearly half” of its employees –including in health administration. About 156,000 executives, managers and employees received them for 2014 performance.

In a report issued Sept 28, the VA’s office of Inspector General recommended possible criminal prosecution of Kim Graves, Director of the VA’s St. Paul Regional Benefits office.

According to an investigative report aired on KARE-TV in September, Graves used her power to create a job opening for herself with less responsibility, but with the same high salary. She reportedly received $129,000 for moving expenses.

Despite the controversy surrounding Ms Graves, USA Today reports she received nearly $8,700 in bonuses for her 2014 job performance. Congress questioned Graves last week during a House VA Committee hearing, where she pleaded the fifth.

Another recipient of the 2014 bonuses was Dr. David Houlihan.  Houlihan, better known as the “Candy Man” for prescribing “alarmingly high amounts of opiates,” was chief of staff at the medical center in Tomah, Wisconsin. He was fired last month, but received a $4,000 bonus last December, according to the report. Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski died of “mixed-drug toxicity” as an inpatient at Tomah, after he was prescribed a fatal cocktail of medications, including opiates.

Last year, the House and Senate passed  legislation to allow the VA to hand out up to $360 million annually to executives, managers and employees.  Rep.  Jeff Miller, chairman of the House VA committee, says the most recent awards reflect a “disturbing trend of rewarding employees who preside over corruption and incompetence.”

Miller believes that any bonuses that were awarded in 2014, and later deemed inappropriate, should be taken back.

He added: “Until VA leaders learn this important lesson and make a commitment to supporting real accountability at the department, efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail.”

VA spokesman James Hutton said the vast majority of agency employees are committed to serving veterans. “VA will continue to review tools and options in order to ensure the department is able to attract and retain the best talent to serve our nation’s veterans, while operating as a good steward of taxpayer funds,” Hutton said.

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  • Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.

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