June 18, 2014 in Nation/World

Big bonuses paid at Phoenix VA

Associated Press
 

PHOENIX – Workers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System – where investigators say veterans’ health was jeopardized when employees covered up long wait times for patients – received about $10 million in bonuses, newly released records show.

Documents from the VA indicate more than 2,100 employees got bonuses over the course of a three-year period, the Arizona Republic reported Tuesday.

The records, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show the bonuses kept increasing. The VA paid $2.5 million in 2011, $3.5 million in 2012 and $3.9 million last year. The merit-based bonuses were doled out to nearly 650 employees each of those years. The employees included doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaning staff.

“The VA employee recognition and awards program provides an entire range of rewards to recognize employees who make contributions that support goals and objectives across the facility,” Phoenix VA spokeswoman Jean Schaefe said.

A VA inspector general’s report found that 1,700 veterans seeking treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital were at risk of being “lost or forgotten” after being kept off the official waiting list.

Phoenix VA director Sharon Helman and two others were placed on administrative leave last month following allegations that some veterans may have died waiting for appointments and schedulers manipulated records.

Helman, who earns $169,000 salary annually, had her $4,900 bonus from last year rescinded by federal VA officials.

Federal lawmakers are working on legislation that would ban bonuses at the VA.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee plans to conduct a hearing Friday on how bonuses are awarded to senior VA executives.

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