Washington Examiner: Veterans outraged after investigation finds VA gave $10.8 million in bonuses to senior executives

WASHINGTON EXAMINER, BRADY KNOX

Veterans expressed outrage after an investigation found the Department of Veterans Affairs gave out $10.8 million in bonuses to senior executives.

The 92-page report from the VA Office of Inspector General found that though the payments were canceled after the alarm was raised, some haven’t been recouped yet.

Shelby Anderson, a disabled Marine veteran, expressed his frustration with the news.

“Many of us have been shot at in the line of fire and risked our lives for this country, so it’s a slap in the face to see $11 million spent on bonuses while countless veterans wait for the support they desperately need,” he said. “It’s especially disheartening when the VA system appears very corrupt, prioritizing bonuses over the well-being of those who served. Witnessing firsthand how poorly the VA is run, it’s clear that no one should be rewarded for their work or job well done with bonuses that amount to more than a yearly salary for most military members.”

Concerned Veterans for America Executive Director Russ Duerstine is calling on Undersecretary of Health Shereef Elnahal and Undersecretary of Benefits Joshua Jacobs to resign in light of the news.

“In light of the recent bonus scandal, the message to Secretary McDonough and VA leadership is clear: VA officials must be held fully accountable for their actions,” he said. “We’re calling for both Undersecretary Elnahal and Jacobs to resign from their positions immediately.  Leaders who do not honor the public trust need to be held accountable. At a minimum, veterans deserve to feel confident that the VA system can allocate funds properly.” 

Kate Monroe, CEO of VetComm, expressed similar outrage.

“This money awarded by Congress was specifically to help ease the backlog and make it easier for the men and women who served our country and became injured or disabled to receive the compensation they deserve,” she said in a statement. “To instead see that money go toward lining the pockets of execs and not help those who served should upset a lot of people.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) is leading a group of bipartisan lawmakers in demanding accountability for the affair, specifically expressing outrage over the fact that many of the bonuses haven’t yet been recouped despite being notified in September.

“While we appreciate that upon learning of these payments in September you demanded the executives reimburse the VA, eight months have passed, and the money is still being recouped,” a letter to VA Secretary Dennis McDonough read. “The VA has an obligation to the veterans and families they serve to claw back the millions of dollars that were improperly distributed, reallocate the funds to their original purpose, and discipline the senior executives who do not comply.”

The money for the bonuses was taken from critical skill incentive, or CSI, payments, which were created through the PACT Act, which itself was primarily meant to help veterans who had been exposed to toxic substances during their service. CSI payments are supposed to be used as an incentive for employees who “possess a high-demand skill or skill that is at a shortage” in order to help the VA meet its staffing requirements.

The erroneous bonus payments were doled out to 182 senior executives, with the amounts for each ranging from $39,000 to over $100,000. The Office of Inspector General reviewed the matter and found that the issuance of the bonuses “lacked adequate justification” and was due to “breakdowns in leadership and controls at multiple levels of VA.”

Many of those who received the payments, only to be notified that they must be returned, also expressed outrage.

“Folks don’t have this money that was given to them. … Folks paid college tuition for their children. People paid off debt. People did all types of things to better their lives, and now VA says we made an error [and we] want that money back,” one executive said. “I think leadership really needs to see the human factor of what they’re doing because the accountability is gone, and the trust is absolutely shot.”

The report from the Office of Inspector General said two executives decided to retire over the recoupment of the payments.

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