Congress challenges bonuses at Veterans Affairs

In a separate issue involving bonuses at the agency reviewed by the Veterans' Affairs House oversight subcommittee, executives within all department were awarded $4.3 million in performance bonuses in the last fiscal year — some more than $60,000, said Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., who chaired a subcommittee hearing on the issue.

The VA has nearly one million claims to process and has faced criticism in areas of quality control because of issues such as endoscopic procedure problems at three Southeast hospitals that potentially exposed thousands of veterans to infections. The problems make it even more relevant to review the awarding of bonuses, Mitchell said.

"The bonus system must allocate responsibility where it lies," Mitchell said.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., questioned the sensitivity of the executive bonuses being distributed as the same time "we were shedding jobs like a dog shedding hair."

VA Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould, who took office earlier this year under the Obama administration, said he agrees that it is a time to be sensitive about the nation's unemployment levels. He said that will likely be considered when the agency makes future performance awards. However, he said it is "also a time when we need to be encouraging our VA employees."

He said to the extent possible, multiple levels of review have been implemented to ensure bonus levels to executive level employees are appropriate.

Gould said the situation among technology office employees investigated by the IG was professionally disturbing and inexcusable and that actions were being taken to ensure something like that doesn't happen again.

James J. O'Neill, assistant inspector general for investigations with the VA's IG office, said he's confident the VA is thoroughly reviewing the matter and taking action.

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