- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2014

Despite secret lists, data manipulation and charges that veterans died because of long wait times, every senior VA executive received high marks over the past four years, the department revealed last week.

Every one of the almost 500 senior executives at Veterans Affairs has been rated “outstanding,” “exceeds fully successful” or “fully successful” since fiscal 2010, Gina Farrisee, assistant secretary for human resources and administration, told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Friday.

Those ratings were used to help dole out more than $14 million in bonuses since 2010.

Ms. Farrisee said knowing what they now know about allegations of data manipulation, the reviews would be different.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the committee, said he can understand why the American public and veterans have lost trust in a system that appears to be controlled by money.

“The quest for monetary gain rather than public service has led to data manipulation and secret lists designed to create a false impression of quality health care that is timely and responsive to veterans,” Mr. Miller said. “This is scandalous, even criminal, I would argue, and runs far deeper than Phoenix.”

Internal audits have found more than 57,000 veterans waited more than 90 days for their first appointment. A preliminary inspector general’s report said problems of cooking the books to show shorter wait times — which are linked to bonuses — is a widespread problem far beyond the Phoenix VA facility, where it was discovered earlier this year.

While the problems have recently come to light again, the inspector general has issued 18 reports on problematic wait times since 2005.

Since 2010 no one has ranked in the lowest two performance categories — “minimally satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory.”

Ms. Farrisee said employees who may have lost their jobs for bad performance would not receive a rating, so there may be employees who were unsatisfactory but weren’t included in the official numbers.

Rep. Dan Benishek, Michigan Republican, said it’s difficult to rely on anything the department says because officials have shown a history of manipulating data.

“There are inconsistencies in your testimony,” he said. “It’s very disturbing to me that here we are trying to reform the VA, and we get inconsistent answers. It makes us not want to trust anything that comes from you people.”

Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, said Ms. Farrisee should be ousted for the good of the department.

“You ought to be outraged at the manner these veterans are treated based on your own background,” he said. “But you’re not; it’s all status quo to you.”

“I think we will be better served as a nation when you are working outside the Veterans Affairs administration,” he said.

Friday’s hearing was expected to focus on bonuses, but lawmakers ended up talking more about VA performance reviews. Rep. Jon Runyan, New Jersey Republican, said it isn’t even possible to talk about bonuses when the rating system is so unreliable and the bar for outstanding work is so low that everyone meets it.

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