GOP senators introduce bill to stop VA health workers from receiving bonuses

Republican Sens. Deb Fischer and Richard Burr.

Republican Sens. Deb Fischer and Richard Burr.  (reuters)

Two Republican senators are attempting to crack down on VA health care employees by introducing a bill that would deny them bonuses through fiscal year 2015.

Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., said Tuesday they believe the bill is necessary due to allegations of veteran deaths as a result of long wait times roiling the agency.

“Funding should be focused on fixing the problem, not rewarding employees entrenched in a failing bureaucracy,” Fischer said in a statement.

Fischer said she believes Congress must step forward to hold VA workers accountable because the Obama administration has not yet done so.

Burr said he finds it “totally appalling” that the VA would still be able to give out bonuses to employees while the department is under investigation.

“It is totally inconceivable that the Veterans Health Administration can justify rewarding themselves while they fail our veterans,” he said. “It is my hope that the Senate will swiftly adopt this piece of legislation so that such gross misconduct is no longer rewarded at taxpayer expense.”

The bill would prohibit the payment of performance awards in Fiscal Year 2015 to employees of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to its website, the VHA consists of 150 medical centers and nearly 1,400 other clinics.

On Friday, the Obama administration announced the resignation of the VHA’s top official, Robert Petzel, over the scandal, though Petzel was already scheduled to retire.

Additionally, a handful of Phoenix VA officials were placed on leave after reports surfaced that patients were dying while waiting for treatment at a center there, and employees in Wyoming and North Carolina have been suspended over allegations they were inappropriately handling scheduling.

In 2013, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki suspended bonuses for another division of the VA, the Veterans Benefits Administration, due to their failure to reduce sizeable backlogs in claims processing. He has not suspended bonuses so far in connection with the health care scandals.