Government Rolls Back Military Pay While Union VA Employees Get Big Bonuses
The Pentagon is broke, say Administration officials, citing spiraling personnel costs that threaten to crowd out needed operational, infrastructure and modernization spending. So the Obama Administration, under former Secretary Leon Panetta and the current Secretary Chuck Hagel, has already tried to slash TRICARE benefits, and increase premiums. The have already tried to eliminate the Tuition Assistance program at three of the four uniformed defense services. They held military pay increases to 1 percent for 2014 – well below the 1.8 percent level normally called for by existing pay formulas. Now they are looking to slash military pensions for retired servicemembers and cut BAH rates, forcing military members to pay more out of their own pockets for housing – even as current on-base military housing – already inadequate even at post-cold-war levels, is allowed to decay.
But the Veterans Administration, apparently, is flush with cash. So flush, in fact, that the VA was able to grant lavish bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars to its government employees union work force. Bonus recipients include Michael Moreland, the administrator of the Pittsburgh, PA VAMC, under whose watch at least five veterans died of legionnaire’s disease – a preventable illness brought about by unsanitary conditions. As many as fifteen other veterans were possibly or definitely infected at the hospital.
The problem wasn’t just in Pittsburgh, however: A GAO report found that a failure to implement precautions against the deadly disease was endemic at VA hospitals nationwide.
In all, more than two thirds of all the VA’s claims processing staff received bonuses totaling 5.5 million dollars in 2012, according to a Stars & Stripes report. Among others, bonuses as high as $50,000 and $60,000 went to construction managers who had significant delays and cost overruns on their projects, to physicians who left interns unsupervised during surgery and who were caught practicing without a license.
Per a report from USAToday,
According to a Government Accountability Office report recently issued, investigators found that during the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years:
- A $7,663 performance-pay bonus went to a VA doctor who was reprimanded for practicing medicine with an expired license for three months.
- A $11,189 bonus was given to a surgeon who was suspended without pay for 14 days after leaving an operating room before surgery was completed, allowing residents to continue unsupervised.
- A $7,500 pay bonus went to a doctor who was reprimanded for refusing to see assigned patients in an emergency room, actions that forced 15 patients to wait six hours to be treated and led nine other patients to leave without treatment.
- An $8,216 bonus was paid to a radiologist whose privileges had been reduced for failing to read mammograms and other complex images competently.
All told, bonuses to VA medical staff totaled $150 million in 2011 alone.
Meanwhile, backlogs of unresolved claims – now finally starting to decline as an automated system comes online (though some observers believe that the decline happened as workers looking to maximize their bonuses front-loaded “easy cases” to boost case rate, while hard cases continued to decline, and while error rates skyrocketed.)
“You stated the VA ‘can and will do more to prevent future incidences,’” Wrote Representative Tim Murphy (R – PA), wrote in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “While preventing the spread of infectious diseases should be a top priority for VA leadership, the department must also hold responsible those in a position of authority who did not adhere to the VA’s own directives and standards of care. And at the very least, the taxpayers should not be giving them bonuses.”
Uniformed military services personnel, of course, are not eligible for performance bonuses. They also have a less finely graduated pay scale that requires many service members to wait many years before receiving a pay increase based on a promotion, while federal employees even within a GS level can receive as many as 10 interim pay increases without being promoted just by getting bumped up the “step” system.
Military members, also, are not unionized. The VA, on the other hand, has a largely union labor force – members of the American Federation for Government Employees, or AFGE.
The net result, of course, is that the Administration would like to fund bonuses for union workers and bureaucrats at the expense of fighters and their families who already endure more hardship and receive lower compensation.