- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2016

Despite more problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency handed out more than $177 million in bonuses in fiscal 2015 to nearly 189,000 employees.

More than 300 senior executives of the troubled agency received $3.3 million in bonuses, for an average payment of about $10,000 each, USA Today reported Monday. Bonuses for nonexecutives averaged about $900.

The report comes in the wake of an aborted attempt by the Pentagon to recoup enlistment bonuses paid to National Guardsmen who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics said the VA bonuses raise fresh questions about the agency’s system for evaluating employees.

“On Wall Street, these bonuses would be laughable,” the advocacy group DisabledVeterans.org said on its website. “But VA is not Wall Street. Instead, it is a beleaguered agency with persistent criminal actors harming veterans on a regular basis.”

Dan Caldwell, vice president of policy and communications at the Concerned Veterans for America, said the bonuses haven’t made the VA work any better.

“The bonus entitlement mentality at the VA should offend the veterans still struggling to receive basic health care as well as the hard-working American taxpayers propping up this broken system,” Mr. Caldwell said.

Among the managers receiving bonuses, the newspaper reported, was the former top VA official in Ohio who retired the same day he received a termination notice. Another bonus went to the chief of staff at the scandal-ridden Phoenix VA Medical Center, who got the cash award four months before he was fired.

In all, more than half of all VA employees received a bonus, an increase of about 20 percent from fiscal 2014. The total amount paid in bonuses rose about 24 percent, up from $142 million in fiscal 2014.

“Whether it’s shuffling problem employees from one location to another instead of disciplining them or repeatedly paying out bonuses with reckless abandon, VA’s habit of coddling those who can’t or won’t do their jobs is as well documented as it is disgraceful,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs chairman.

VA spokesman Randal Noller told the paper that the agency “is in the midst of a massive transformation effort to improve veterans’ experiences with VA care and services.”

“Performance management systems and performance-related awards afford leaders an effective means of recognizing superior employees, rewarding strong customer service and building an exceptionally effective and successful workforce,” Mr. Noller said. “Employee rewards and recognition not only build employee engagement and morale, but also motivate stronger performance and better service for veterans.”

USA Today said the list of those paid bonuses included Dr. Darren Deering, who was fired as chief of staff of the Phoenix VA Health Care System last June for what the agency said was “negligent performance of duties and failure to provide effective oversight.” He received a $5,000 bonus in February.

The Phoenix system was ground zero in 2014 of a scandal involving veterans dying while waiting for appointments — delays that were covered up with phony wait lists.

Jack Hetrick, formerly the top VA official in Ohio, received a $12,705 bonus last January. An investigation by WCPO-TV and Scripps News showed that Barbara Temeck, acting chief of staff at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, was prescribing medication to Mr. Hetrick’s wife without a proper license. Ms. Temeck was paid a $5,000 bonus in January.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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