VA Paid $400 Million Annually in Bonuses Despite Backlog of Veterans’ Disability Claims
In a move that sent shockwaves from Capitol Hill to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the House of Representatives passed a sweeping bill on Monday targeted at the continued mismanagement of the department. One particular provision of HR 1405 perhaps demonstrated just how exasperated members of Congress – and, by default, constituents – are with the VA. The VA will now cap its bonus payout system to $345 million annually through 2018, a cut of fourteen percent from $400 million.
A report issued on the proposed legislation by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee underscored the growing concern legislators have with the department, especially in light of the bonus structure. The report issued after the legislation left the House committee targeted the Veterans Benefits Administration, and how some “managers and supervisors” of offices that exacerbated the growing backlog problem still qualified for and received “merit-based bonuses.”
Conventionally, merit-based bonuses are awarded to employees who have exceeded expectations, surpassed goals, and, in general, performed their duties at the highest level. According to the committee report, merit-based bonuses were handed out to VA employees who had poor work performances and to other employees who threatened early retirement. The latter, according to the report, were incentive-based bonuses, designed to curb employees from taking early retirement.
By snipping some of the VA’s purse strings, the House bill will be the proverbial shot across the bow, and, in so doing, instigate the department to not only address some plaguing issues, but to meet the mandates President Obama set.
In addition to slashing the merit-based bonuses for substandard work, the House bill has another interesting provision that is more functional than theoretical. If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by the President, the VA must include an appeal form in every letter sent to veterans denying benefits.
This provision is especially poignant for veterans with health issues tied to their time in the service, but the military has yet to make a causal link. For example, it took the government years to acknowledge the link between using Agent Orange and the later development of serious medical conditions including cancers, autoimmune disorders and birth defects. It also took years for the government to acknowledge the link between the widespread use of asbestos in Navy yards, submarines and in vessels, and the development of mesothelioma cancer.
It is unclear what the next steps are for the House bill, and what form it will take once it reaches the Senate.