Thousands Of Soldiers Now Have To Pay Back Their Bonuses To The Pentagon, While Bad VA Employees Keep Theirs

Jonah Bennett | Contributor

The Obama administration is targeting the bonuses of thousands of soldiers who signed up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, but left entirely alone the bonuses handed to numerous employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), despite questionable behavior.

In an effort to fill a severe troop shortage, officials at the National Guard wrongfully gave bonuses to thousands of troops who weren’t supposed to receive them, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. Now, the Pentagon wants that money back, sometimes with interest, even though these soldiers served honorably and also had no idea officials were fraudulently doling out bonuses. Congress was apparently aware of this issue for at least two years.

But while this practice of recouping bonuses wrongfully paid might be standard fare at the Pentagon, it certainly does not extend to the rest of the Obama administration. VA faithfully handed out countless millions in bonuses to employees like Michael Moreland, who served as regional director of the Pittsburgh healthcare system, while six veterans died of Legionnaires’ disease, due to systemic facility failures. Moreland received a $63,000 bonus in 2013 a few days after the inspector general report was published. Later that year, he received another bonus of $37,195.

Glenn Haggstrom, a VA construction official who oversaw the cost overruns totaling $2 billion at the Aurora hospital project in Colorado, still received and was allowed to keep a bonus of $63,000.

Numerous executives involved in managing the hospital construction also took home bonuses. Stella Fiotes, executive director of the Office of Construction and Facilities Management, received a $8,985 bonus. Dennis Milsten, associate director of the Office of Construction and Facilities Management, also received a $8,069 bonus.

The infamous Dr. David Houlihan, nicknamed the “Candy Man” by veterans for handing out copious amounts of opioids, received a $4,000 bonus about nine months after an inspector general report indicated his propensity to hand out drugs. An inpatient pharmacist supervisor at the Tomah VA also received a $1,050 bonus, even though Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski died after he was given a toxic cocktail of drugs.

Dr. Susan Markstrom, chief of staff at the St. Cloud VA, received a $3,900 bonus in 2014, despite the fact that a January, 2014 report showed numerous health care providers resigned because of serious mismanagement. Employees, according to the report, were afraid to even report any problems at the facility.

Jed Fillingim, financial manager at the Augusta VA medical center in Georgia, received a $900 bonus, even though he confessed to drinking and driving using a federally-owned truck. While he was driving in 2010, a work colleague fell from the truck and died.

Kimberly Graves, then-VA benefits office director in St. Paul, Minn., took home a bonus of $8,697 based on her work in 2014. According to an inspector general report from September, 2015, Graves used her executive authority to place herself in a new, comfortable job and collect $129,000 in benefits.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter pledged Tuesday that the Pentagon will investigate the issue of thousands of soldiers being ordered to pay back their bonuses and work towards a resolution.

“We are going to look into and resolve it,” Carter said. “It is a significant issue.”

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