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Union Of Gov’t Employees: Bill To Recoup Corrupt VA Bonuses Will Jeopardize Hard Workers

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) workers, declared an emergency Thursday morning and warned supporters the Senate is trying to pass a bill to take back bonuses from employees.

GOP Sen. [crscore]Kelly Ayotte[/crscore] introduced the bill back in March. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the legislation Thursday.

According to the text, the bill stipulates that if the VA determines that an employees has violated policy serious enough to warrant removal or suspension, the VA cannot award a bonus either for five years after the date of the “adverse finding” or the finding was found to be in error.

Even if there’s an adverse finding, employees still will receive notice and the chance for a hearing. If the hearing determines that the adverse finding is indeed legitimate, the employee must repay the bonus from the particular year in which that adverse finding occurred.

Any reprimands or admonishments will then stay in that employee’s permanent record at the VA.

AFGE asked its supporters to call senators and tell them to “protect hardworking VA employees” by voting no. The union complained that the bill would empower the agency to “recoup past bonuses based on vague and arbitrary standards.” The bill might also, according to AFGE, be applied to any other government agency.

The VA has a history of handing out bonuses to employees who botch projects and retaliate against whistleblowers. In 2014, the VA issued over $142 million in performance awards. Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said he would halt bonuses at the scandal-ridden agency, but Congress decided otherwise, passing legislation in summer 2014 allowing $360 million in bonuses every year. Unlike his predecessor, VA Secretary Robert McDonald justified doling out bonuses to a beleaguered agency, drawing fire from Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth.

“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.

As just a small sample, VA executives in Washington, D.C., presiding over the construction of the new medical center, received bonuses ranging from $3,800 to $9,000.

Attempts to recoup those bonuses have failed. In late November, a judge ruled that the VA cannot recoup a bonus handed out to Sharon Helman, a former senior executive at the Phoenix medical center, who presided over a regular practice of waitlist manipulation.

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