(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for continuing to offer exorbitant bonuses to managers in VA medical facilities and benefits offices while frontline staff struggle with limited resources to meet the growing needs of the nation’s veterans.
“The idea that frontline employees have to stretch resources with limited staff, while executives continue to receive large bonuses is mindboggling,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s National Veterans Affairs Council, which represents 160,000 employees in the VA. “If the VA is serious about recruiting and retaining highly trained and capable staff, it should reinvest in frontline staff, not top level bureaucracy.”
Two years ago when media reports exposed that the VA was doling out bonuses to executives, despite mounting claims backlogs, reports of poor patient care and suspicious deaths in VA hospitals, Congress rightly reprimanded the agency. However, despite the Congressional reproach, the agency has continued to shower executives with lavish bonuses. According to the union, these bonuses, when coupled with the already high salaries of medical and benefits executives, represent a misguided approach to compensation lacking fairness and transparency.
In 2007, the media reported that VA performance review boards, which make determinations about who receives bonuses, were stacked with the same executives who were scheduled to receive the incentive payments. These members had input on bonus recommendations involving themselves, fellow members and spouses that made questionable performance claims and neglected agency problems. According to AFGE members in the field, there have been no signs that such conflicts of interest have been corrected since that time. In fact, members report that even when frontline staff members are rewarded with bonuses, the awards are disseminated arbitrarily and with favoritism.
In addition to criticizing the current executive bonus structure, AFGE has also taken a strong position against pending legislation that would increase the maximum amount of nurse executive and pharmacist executive incentive pay to $100,000 and $40,000 respectively. Amendments introduced to S.252 would allow VA executive nurses who are not involved in direct patient care to receive a 400 percent increase in incentive pay. These amendments also move to exempt VA executive physicians and dentists from the fair pay setting process established by Congress in 2004.
In 2004, with bipartisan support, Congress enacted a system for setting physician and dentist pay that relies on a panel of peers in the same medical field to set market pay (P.L. 108-445). “If the VA is serious about maintaining a secure and sustainable workforce, it should apply its rules of compensation equally,” said Lee. “The newly proposed provision would exempt healthcare executives from the same balanced process and pay standards that apply to their counterparts on the frontline, who actually provide direct patient care.”