By trying to justify millions in bonuses for VA employeesinvolved in scandal, VA Secretary Robert McDonald is defending theindefensible, a veteransâ€™ group saidWednesday.
For 2014, employees received a total of $140 million inperformance awards. Almost 50 percent of the 340,000 workers at theVA took home bonuses. The sheer number of employees awarded hasraised questions about low-bar performance standards.
Regardless,Â McDonald was quick to justify the bonuses in an op-ed in USA Today. First,the bonuses covered the time period of October 2013 to September2014, meaning that they are not based on current scandals. Second,bonuses play a large role in retaining talent. Third, the hugemajority of the 156,000 workers who did receive bonuses definitelyput veterans first.
Not only did McDonald defend past bonuses, but he also rejectedattempts to curtail or end the award system.
â€œOccasionally, we make errors; those deservemore scrutiny,â€ he wrote. â€œButseverely curtailing or ending awards, only in VA, would be amistake, negatively impacting veterans and our ability to attracttop talent.â€
Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth argued thatMcDonaldâ€™s op-ed indicates just how out of touch he is with problems at thedepartment.
â€œDespite consistently complaining that the VAis in the midst of a â€˜resourcecrisis,â€™ he rushes to the editorial pages of amajor newspaper to defend the VAâ€™s handing outmore than $140 million in incentives to nearly 50 percent of VAemployees, including individuals who knowingly overprescribedmedication to veterans, oversaw massive cost and time overruns ofVA facilities, and created a culture of fear amongsubordinates,â€ Hegseth wrote in a statement.
â€œIf Sec. McDonald is truly committed to ourveterans and not pleasing entrenched bureaucrats, he should devotehis time to reforming the bonus system rather than crafting op-edsthat defend the indefensible,â€ Hegseth added.
Kim Graves, a regional benefits director in St. Paul, whorecently pleaded the Fifth Amendment at a congressional hearing,received an $8,700 bonus.
Dr. David Houlihan, infamously known as the Candy Man at theTomah VA, took home a bonus fo $4,000 10 months before he was firedfrom his post. (RELATED: â€˜Candy Manâ€™ DoctorFinally FIRED From Tomah VA, WhistleblowersElated)
VA executives located in Washington, D.C., brought in awardsranging anywhere from $3,800 to almost $9,000. These executivesplayed a role in overseeing the VA medical center in Colorado,which has breached budget limits by about $1 billion.
Even the editorial board at USA Today took strong issue withMcDonaldâ€™s claims.
â€œThe VA has failed to explain why any ofthese individuals got bonuses.Â Instead, it hassidestepped the issue, preferring toÂ boastthatÂ bonuses for â€œsenior executiveserviceâ€ employees in the VA’s HealthAdministration were eliminated in 2014,â€ the editorialboard noted. â€œSounds good, until you learn thatthe action involved doing away with bonuses for just 165 people andthat many high-ranking officialsÂ are not designated asSES.â€