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Senior executives with the Department of Veterans Affairs will not see another bonus for five years under a bill the House Veterans Affairs Committee approved on Wednesday and sent to the House floor for a vote.
The bill comes as lawmakers grow increasingly frustrated with the VA over the backlog of veterans disability claims that numbers up to 900,000.
Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., told Military.com on Wednesday the legislation is also the result of the VA's failure to give his committee information about potential fraud involving bonuses. Both House and Senate lawmakers have heard allegations that some VA hospital executives skewed data on veterans' appointments and drew bonuses for meeting the goal.
"We've been asking for bonus information from the VA for a significant amount of time," Miller said. "They have not been forthcoming with the information. So if we just freeze [bonuses] for five years maybe we can find out what's going on."
Miller said VA officials could be compelled to testify on the allegations.
"We've done our investigatory process by asking the VA to provide us that information," he said. "They have been less than forthcoming and transparent with us. We're tired of playing games. We're going to start the process now."
The VA announced in April that it would withhold bonuses for senior executives overseeing disability claims. That decision followed widespread media reports of the bonuses, including for executives whose regional offices saw their backlog double during the same period for which they got a cash bonus.
VA records revealed the agency paid its senior executives a total of $2.8 million in bonuses in fiscal year 2011. Three executives, including one whose office saw its backlog double in 2011, received the top payment of $23,091, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, which first reported the numbers.
Miller said his bill was not intended to "denigrate" the work of everyone in the senior executive service, but "in light of recent events, which we've all seen and heard about in the media, I think this provision is warranted."
In a statement following Wednesday's hearing, Miller said the VA's decision to withhold bonuses for executives overseeing disability claims is a "step in the right direction [but] they don't go far enough."
"Until we have complete confidence that VA is holding executives accountable -- rather than rewarding them -- for their mistakes, no one should get a performance bonus," he said.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed to end the backlog in 2015.
|Department of Veteran Affairs VA Claims and Appeals Bryant Jordan|