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A Republican lawmaker leveraged the power of the Internet on Thursday to shine a light on the Veterans Affairs Department.
Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House veterans affairs committee, launched the VA Accountability Watch, an extension of Veterans.House.Gov, to highlight VA's "growing pattern of rewarding failure.”
“First and foremost, VA Accountability Watch is about ensuring our veterans get the care and benefits they deserve, but it’s also an effort to protect those who work for VA,” Miller said. “The vast majority of the department’s more than 300,000 employees are dedicated and hard working. They deserve better than to have the reputation of their organization dragged through the mud by a bunch of executives who are too busy patting themselves on the back to take responsibility for their own incompetence.”
VA, which is responsible for 22 million veterans, has been making headlines recently for cases in which officials who oversaw management failures were rewarded with hefty bonuses. The Government Accountability Office found that bonuses distributed to officials had no clear link to performance.
There have also been revelations of preventable deaths in VA hospitals, and benefit and construction delays because of management shortcomings.
The site lists state by state the amount VA officials received in bonuses, despite ongoing issues.
A few examples here:
Buffalo, N.Y. David West, a VA health official in New York, pocketed nearly $26,000 in bonuses while overseeing chronic misuse of insulin pens that potentially exposed hundreds of veterans to blood-borne illnesses.
Pittsburgh, Pa. After persistent management failures led to a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, VA Pittsburgh Director Terry Gerigk Wolf received a perfect performance review. Regional Director Michael Moreland, who oversees VA Pittsburgh, collected a $63,000 bonus.
Washington, D.C. Diana Rubens, VA executive in charge of the nearly 60 offices that process disability benefits compensation claims, collected almost $60,000 in bonuses while presiding over a near-seven-fold increase in backlogged claims.
Recently, VA has been taking measures to increase its accountability. Anyone can monitor the Veterans Benefit Administration through the VBA performance website, which is a part of VBA's transparency program. Based on organizational performance goals, senior executives in VBA will not receive performance awards for fiscal year 2012. The funds have instead been reinvested in eliminating the backlog. In the last five months alone, VA said it has reduced its backlog by 20 percent.
A Washington oversight group applauded the pressure the committee put on VA.
"It's terrific to see Congress doing this kind of public engagement on oversight," Angela Canterbury, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight, told FedScoop. "We have been really impressed by the work being done by the investigators for the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. This is just the latest example of the committee's dedication to holding the VA accountable to ensure our veterans get the care they deserve."