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Policy: Entitlements

House site to track VA bonuses for botched performance

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Politics,Congress,Watchdog,Mark Flatten,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,Entitlements,Follow the Money

Rewarding failure at the Department of Veterans' Affairs is the theme of a web page launched Thursday by the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs to track examples of big bonuses paid to agency executives despite poor performance.

As the Washington Examiner reported this week, top VA health officials drew hefty bonuses last year, in spite of a string of patient deaths, mismanagement, unsanitary conditions and unprofessional practices at facilities run by the Veterans' Health Administration.

The Examiner posted a list of VA bonuses paid in the 2012 fiscal year, as well as a separate database tracking agency bonuses to high-ranking officials since 2007. Last week the Government Accountability Office slammed the agency for routinely paying bonuses to doctors and other medical professionals despite disciplinary and performance problems.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the veterans committee, created the site to highlight the "growing pattern of rewarding failure" at VA.

"VA executives who fail in their jobs shouldn't receive bonuses or glowing performance reviews," Miller said. "They should be disciplined or fired."

Miller said the main purpose of the site is to prod the agency to do its job of providing health care and benefits to veterans. A side benefit is to acknowledge management failures are unfairly tarnishing more than 300,000 rank-and-file employees who work hard, he said.

"They deserve better than to have the reputation of their organization dragged through the mud by a bunch of executives who are too busy patting themselves on the back to take responsibility for their own incompetence," Miller said.

"By educating America's veterans and American taxpayers about VA's long and well-documented history of rewarding failure, we hope to enlist their help in our quest to end the culture of complacency that is contributing to many of the department's most serious problems."

VA paid out more than $3.3 million in performance bonuses to top executives and medical professionals last year, according to documents obtained by the Examiner.

Bonuses for the Veterans' Benefits Administration, which handles disability and pension compensation claims, were cancelled earlier this year because of the backlog of disability claims.

Among those singled out on the House site:

• Diana Rubens, deputy under secretary for field operations, who has collected nearly $100,000 in bonuses since 2007, even as the backlog of disability claims and wait times for veterans seeking compensation for service-related medical conditions has ballooned.

• Terry Gerigk Wolf and her boss, Michael Moreland, who both collected five-figure bonuses in 2011 despite a string of preventable patient deaths from Legionnaires' disease at VA hospitals in Pittsburgh that they were in charge of. Wolf got a perfect performance review but no bonus last year. Since 2010 she has received more than $20,000 in performance bonuses. Earlier this year, Moreland received a $62,895 bonus through the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, which is not included in the performance awards issued by the agency. He did not get an agency bonus in 2012, but since 2010 has collected almost $39,000 in extra performance pay.

• Directors of VA medical centers in St. Louis and Dayton, Ohio, who got bonuses despite investigations revealing poor sanitary procedures that potentially exposed patients to HIV and Hepatitis. Guy Richardson, director of the Dayton VA Medical Center, and his counterpart in St. Louis, RimaAnn Nelson, each got more than $11,000 in performance bonuses last year.

• James Clark, former director of the VA Medical Center in Atlanta, who received almost $66,000 in bonuses over four years despite four preventable patient deaths linked by the VA-IG to widespread mismanagement.

VA officials did not respond to a request for comment. In an earlier statement, an agency spokesman said some performance bonuses for senior executives, including some in the health care system, have been suspended pending further review. The spokesman provided no details.

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