VA officials regret patient deaths but keep bonuses

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Top health care officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs apologized for a recent string of preventable patient deaths, but not for the big performance bonuses paid out afterwards, during a congressional field hearing in Pittsburgh Monday.

The apologies followed tearful testimony from the families of veterans who died at VA facilities in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and from agency whistleblowers who described cover-ups and retaliation by hospital administrators when they tried to expose wrongdoing.

Yet, despite acknowledging the “deeply compelling and very upsetting” stories of how VA failures led to the deaths, Robert Petzel, the department's under-secretary for health, maintained that the bonuses paid to top administrators were justified and in some cases legally required.

That includes the nearly $63,000 bonus paid to Michael Moreland, director of the VA health care region that includes Pittsburgh, where at least five patient deaths resulted from an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease between July 2011 and November 2012.