4 out of 5 VA execs collected a bonus despite treatment delays, veteran deaths

Almost 80 percent of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) senior executives got performance bonuses in 2013, despite widespread treatment delays that resulted in veteran deaths, along with allegations of secret wait lists at VA hospitals and clinics, according to testimony during a U.S. House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Friday.

More than 350 VA executives received $2.7 million in bonuses last year, down from about $3.4 million in 2012, Giana Farrisee, assistant VA secretary for human resources and administration, told the comittee. Nearly 80 percent of senior executives were rated as outstanding or exceeding "fully successful," according to the VA.

The VA also awarded millions of dollars in bonuses to doctors, dentists and other providers, including almost $4 million to 650 workers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System--where allegations arose in April that 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment and a secret wait list hid the 1,500 veterans awaiting care.

Farrisee argued the bonuses are necessary to keep leadership in the organization. "We are competing in tough labor markets for skilled personnel," Farrisee said during her testimony. "To remain competitive in recruiting and retaining the best personnel to serve our veterans, we must rely on tools such as incentives and awards that recognize superior performance."

However, Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson ordered an end to senior executive bonuses, as well as suspending extra performance pay for employees amid the scandal, AZ Central reported.

Meanwhile, the former administrator who ran the Phoenix facility and was placed on leave last month amid the scandal is still collecting a paycheck. Executive Director Sharon Helman still collects her $170,000 a year salary, even though the VA conceded her facility manipulated the patient wait-time records to receive bonuses.

Helman received a $9,345 in bonus in 2013, but the VA rescinded the $8,495 bonus she was awarded in February, according to the article. The VA began the termination process for Helman, according to the article.

"These performance awards went to at least 65 percent of the senior executive workforce at the Department.  In fact not a single senior manager at VA, out of 470 individuals, received a less than fully successful performance review for the last fiscal year .... I wholeheartedly disagree with VA's assessment of its senior staff," Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said in his opening statement.

Whistleblowers at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in the Chicago area claimed officials kept secret waitlists to collect bonuses for on-time treatment, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Accusers said vets on the secret lists waited days, weeks or months before receiving treatment for physical and mental illnesses, while hospital executives avoided penalties and received bonuses.

To learn more:
- here's the hearing webcast
- read the AZ Central story
- check out Miller's statement