By trying to justify millions in bonuses for VA employees involved in scandal, VA Secretary Robert McDonald is defending the indefensible, a veterans’ group said Wednesday.
For 2014, employees received a total of $140 million in performance awards. Almost 50 percent of the 340,000 workers at the VA took home bonuses. The sheer number of employees awarded has raised questions about low-bar performance standards.
Regardless, McDonald was quick to justify the bonuses in an op-ed in USA Today. First, the bonuses covered the time period of October 2013 to September 2014, meaning that they are not based on current scandals. Second, bonuses play a large role in retaining talent. Third, the huge majority of the 156,000 workers who did receive bonuses definitely put veterans first.
Not only did McDonald defend past bonuses, but he also rejected attempts to curtail or end the award system.
“Occasionally, we make errors; those deserve more scrutiny,” he wrote. “But severely curtailing or ending awards, only in VA, would be a mistake, negatively impacting veterans and our ability to attract top talent.”
Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth argued that McDonald’s op-ed indicates just how out of touch he is with problems at the department.
“Despite consistently complaining that the VA is in the midst of a ‘resource crisis,’ he rushes to the editorial pages of a major newspaper to defend the VA’s handing out more than $140 million in incentives to nearly 50 percent of VA employees, including individuals who knowingly overprescribed medication to veterans, oversaw massive cost and time overruns of VA facilities, and created a culture of fear among subordinates,” Hegseth wrote in a statement.
“If Sec. McDonald is truly committed to our veterans and not pleasing entrenched bureaucrats, he should devote his time to reforming the bonus system rather than crafting op-eds that defend the indefensible,” Hegseth added.
Kim Graves, a regional benefits director in St. Paul, who recently pleaded the Fifth Amendment at a congressional hearing, received an $8,700 bonus.
Dr. David Houlihan, infamously known as the Candy Man at the Tomah VA, took home a bonus fo $4,000 10 months before he was fired from his post. (RELATED: ‘Candy Man’ Doctor Finally FIRED From Tomah VA, Whistleblowers Elated)
VA executives located in Washington, D.C., brought in awards ranging anywhere from $3,800 to almost $9,000. These executives played a role in overseeing the VA medical center in Colorado, which has breached budget limits by about $1 billion.
Even the editorial board at USA Today took strong issue with McDonald’s claims.
“The VA has failed to explain why any of these individuals got bonuses. Instead, it has sidestepped the issue, preferring to boast that bonuses for “senior executive service” employees in the VA’s Health Administration were eliminated in 2014,” the editorial board noted. “Sounds good, until you learn that the action involved doing away with bonuses for just 165 people and that many high-ranking officials are not designated as SES.”
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