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WASHINGTON – More than 12,000 Veterans Administration employees in several states have received nearly $9 million in bonuses since 2011, according to a government watchdog group.
To add insult to injury, in fiscal 2009, the year President Obama took office, VA spending was $105,520,280,000 in 2014 dollars. Compared to today’s budgets, that means that during Obama’s presidency annual VA spending has increased 33.5 percent, according to federal reports.
This information comes in the wake of recent reports by WND, the Arizona Republic and other media outlets documenting even though the Obama administration drastically increased VA spending, veterans were unable to receive appointments for months because federal employees compiled “secret waiting lists” leading to the deaths of more than 100 veterans nationwide.
In an interim report to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last week, executives from the VA Office of Inspector General testified that their team in Phoenix had linked delayed care to patient harm, but had not verified any veteran deaths due to the problem.
The VA’s bonus system has come under fire by agency critics who say the incentive money motivates some employees, especially managers, to misrepresent achievements in order to meet performance goals.
“Salary and bonus data at OpenTheBooks.com shows clear evidence that the bureaucracy served the bureaucracy, not veterans,” Adam Andrzejewski, American Transparency chairman at OpenTheBooks.com told WND. “These troubled VA facilities have nearly $9 million in bonuses. With federal investigations ongoing, was it incompetence or the perverse incentive of too much pay?”
United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gen. Eric Shinseki just rescinded a $9,345 bonus of a top executive for the Phoenix VA Healthcare system in the wake of allegations of delayed care and death at the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center. In a statement released Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that the “incentive pay” had been intended for Sharon Helman, the Phoenix system director, but it was canceled after determining that it had been issued “due to an administrative error.”
Since 2011, the following facilities have allegedly received bonuses according to a report by OpenTheBooks.com:
- Edward Hines, Jr. Hospital, Cook County, Illinois: $4.1356 million
- Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center, Gainesville, Florida: $575,400
- New Mexico VA Health Care System, Albuquerque, New Mexico: $2.646 million
- Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Home, Biloxi, Mississippi: $247,103
- Miami VA Healthcare System, Miami, Florida: $334,987
- Fort Collins Outpatient Clinic, Fort Collins, Colorado: $4,150
- Phoenix VA Health Care System Home, Phoenix, Arizona: $843,000
Andrzejewski specifically points to the example of the Hines VA hospital in Illinois.
“During the last three years, the Hines VA Hospital in Cook County, Illinois, spent $1 billion on salaries, $4 million on bonuses, and veterans still had trouble seeing a doctor. It’s not question of money, but a systemic leadership problem,” he told WND.
But until now, it has gone unreported that since 2009 several VA hospitals nationwide, including Hines, were part of a system-wide overhaul led by Shinseki to “transform” VA leadership and ultimately reduce patient wait times.
Documents obtained exclusively by WND show that this program, also known as the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers, or FAC-P/PM, is specifically designed to “enhance the competencies” and “improve accountability” of VA’s senior executive staff and other VA employees through a complex system of behavior analysis tools.
The documents read:
“On September 23, 2009, VA Deputy Secretary Scott Gould testified before the House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Committee on his strategy to implement a Performance Management Accountability System (PMAS) to enhance the competencies of VA’s senior executive service. To be effective, this strategy must permeate the organization at all levels. Mr. Gould’s testimony reinforced Secretary Shinseki’s strategy of transforming VA into ‘a people-centric, results-driven and forward-looking department.’ VA is already making a concerted effort to transform the VA acquisition workforce from ‘tactical and reactive’ to ‘strategically-driven and focused on results’ with the investment in the Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA).
“The recent systemic failure of investments to attain cost, schedule, and performance goals has created a heightened sense of urgency to enhance acquisition and project management competencies across the VA acquisition workforce. Fueling this sense of urgency have been widely publicized reports from internal stakeholders and external customers expressing concerns regarding the service level these troubled VA programs are actually providing.”
Financial auditor Grant Thornton, which touts itself as one of the world’s leading organizations of independent audit, tax and advisory firms, partnered with another publicly traded company to help the Obama administration achieve its transformation goals.
The documents WND obtained tout accountability and transparency:
“Adding to the complexity of this demanding environment is the bright spotlight of governmental transparency. The result is the need for a comprehensive human capital strategy that takes an aggressive – beyond ‘minimum standards’ – approach to training the VA workforce through an integrated strategy that establishes individual and organizational accountability.”
Instead of increasing the number and quality of hospital care staff, however, Obama administration officials seemingly created more bureaucracy at taxpayer expense.
Shinseki in a 2011 statement to Washington Technology said his aim was to “transform the VA into a 21st century organization” to enable the VA to acquire services for information technology programs that will help ensure timely delivery of health care and benefits to our veterans.
His vision birthed a $12-billion information technology contracting initiative known as T4. The lofty contract serves as a means to provide efficient, secure systems that help reduce wait times, among other things.
“T4 is a major tool in the transformation of VA into a 21st century organization,” Shinseki said in the statement.
After further investigation, WND found that under Shinseki’s leadership, the VA has also suffered from major security breaches, as thieves have gained unscrupulous access to patients’ records. Last March, Tampa VA medical center employee David Lewis was sentenced to six years in federal prison for stealing over 100 veterans’ private information and trading it for crack cocaine.
According to the press release from the United States Justice Department in Florida, on at least five different dates in 2012, Lewis accessed and printed the personal information, including names, social security numbers and medical information, of over 100 veterans who were inpatients at the Tampa VA Medical Center.