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Lawmaker Proposes VA Recoup Bonus Money from Bad Executives

House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller
House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller

Veterans Affairs Department executives who picked up thousands of dollars in bonuses for work now suspect following revelations of secret wait lists and manipulated patient data intended to make their facilities look good may have to pay the money back.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, introduced legislation on Tuesday that will give VA Secretary Bob McDonald to authority to recover bonuses from those whose medical facilities are under investigation for falsifying appointment wait times.

"Ideally, VA employees and executives who collected bonuses under false pretenses should be subject to prosecution when warranted, but at a minimum their bonuses should be paid back in full," Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "I urge my colleagues to support this bill so the VA secretary will have another tool to instill some much-needed accountability throughout the department."

VA paid out bonuses totaling $380,000 to senior executives at 38 hospitals now under investigation, Miller said.

In the past, VA officials pushed by Miller and other lawmakers to try and recoup the bonus money have said they do not know if they can do that.

Miller said on Tuesday his bill will eliminate that confusion.

Congress was told in testimony several  years ago that hospital executives from across the U.S. regularly shared tips on how to get around standards of care they were having difficulty meeting. And meeting standards was tied to getting cash bonuses.

Since last April, however, when whistleblower reports revealed secret wait lists of patients at the VA hospital in Phoenix linked to patient deaths, Congress has grown more adamant that executives be held accountable.

Miller's bill states that the VA secretary would determine if – and how much – bonus money needs to be returned by an executive, and if that official may request a hearing with the secretary before recoupment is ordered.

Once the VA secretary's decision for repayment is made, however, it would not be susceptible to review, Miller's law states.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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