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VFW not concerned with large staff bonuses at VA hospitals, but others are

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Feb. 11 update to article

There are serious problems within the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in this country and two of America’s largest Veterans associations have vastly different opinions regarding hospital issues.
The first three parts of this series of reports by this examiner described the scathing Government Accountability Office (GAO) report regarding millions of dollars of bonuses paid to VA hospital staffers at a time that quality of care for Veterans was questioned.
CNN is reporting that U.S. veterans are dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals. At least 19 veterans have died because of delays in simple medical screenings like colonoscopies or endoscopies. That’s according to an internal document from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, obtained exclusively by CNN that deals with patients diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and 2011.
And a couple weeks ago, USA Today released this report… Young veterans just out of the service and receiving health care from the government committed suicide at nearly three times the rate of active-duty troops in recent years. VA officials say the data show that severe personal issues driving self-destructive tendencies for those in uniform follow them when they leave the military. The figures were released through a USA TODAY public records request of the VA.

This reporter was successful in obtaining three Freedom of Information Act Requests (FOIA) of the VA, and that material is released in this report as well as in the prior three reports in the series. But when the two largest Veterans associations were presented with this reporter’s findings, they reacted in vastly different ways.
“Knowing that many providers could make far more in private practice, the Veterans of Foreign Wars is not concerned with rewarding talent to retain talent as long as the individual’s performance justifies the award,” said Joe Davis, Public Affairs Director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

“I ran the math and the average award to 80% of the 22,500 providers was $8,300, with the remaining 20% receiving $2,200. Referring back to the gist of my quote, these folks could have made a whole lot more elsewhere, so wanting to serve veterans has to be in the heart of many, and that is worth applause and recognition,” said Davis.

But others are not so sympathetic. “We agree with the GAO report. The VA performance system and bonus program is broken and needs to be fixed,” said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. “Once again this shows a failure of VA leadership and is indicative of a broken VA culture which must be reformed. There is no accountability at VA, and that needs to change,” said Hegseth.

And Congress is very concerned. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs just introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Management Accountability Act of 2014.

In endorsing the bill, introduced by Miller, Hegseth issued the following statement:

“Concerned Veterans for America has witnessed, with increasing alarm, the poor state of VA management; not only leading to long wait times for veterans, but also to serious health care problems and even deaths. It’s past time for reform and accountability at this dysfunctional department.”

Because VFW is headquartered in Kansas City, this reporter made the FOIA request of the VA staff bonus documents from the Kansas City VA hospital.

Here is a brief overview of 27 pages of staff bonus documents released by the VA:

One hundred eighty-five Physicians and Dentists, full and part time, received from $150 to $15,000 in bonuses (the government calls them “performance awards”) with the average being about $9,000 each.
Ninety-three Nurses received between $250 and $3,000 with the average being about $1,300 each.
Twenty LPNs received bonuses between $250 and $1,491.
Fifty-four Pharmacists or Pharmacy Techs received an average bonus of $2,000 each.

Even clerks, admins and house keepers received bonuses, in addition to very reasonable salaries, outstanding eye, health and dental insurance plans.

The Kansas City VA FOIA officer, Megan Browning refused to provide names as others did in the previous parts of this series because it would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of… privacy.”
One VA staffer who wished to remain anonymous said, “Well, the way it works, if you have an outstanding performance evaluation, no matter what you do, you get some kind of bonus. I have been with the VA 35 years, and most of those years, there was no money for bonuses. How money is handled at any VA is a mystery to me. If they project they have more than anticipated, like at the end of the fiscal year, they tend to give out bonuses; if not they don’t.

“I think the VA model can be good, but the bureaucrats have taken over and it is a headache to get anything done here, like contracting and hiring people; and it all seemed to go south when Obama hired Shinseki [Secretary of the VA Administration] to run the department … he has been a nightmare for the VA,” the anonymous source stated.

For more on this series, look for other links in examiner.com under this reporter's byline.

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