Troubled Phoenix VA doled out $10M in bonuses

FILE This April 28, 2014 file photos shows the Phoenix VA Health Care Center in Phoenix. The Veterans Affairs Department says more than 57,000 patients are still waiting for initial medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics 90 days or more after requesting them. An additional 64,000 who enrolled in the VA health care system over the past 10 years have never had appointments. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
FILE This April 28, 2014 file photos shows the Phoenix VA Health Care Center in Phoenix. The Veterans Affairs Department says more than 57,000 patients are still waiting for initial medical appointments at VA hospitals and clinics 90 days or more after requesting them. An additional 64,000 who enrolled in the VA health care system over the past 10 years have never had appointments. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — Workers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System — where investigators say veterans’ health was jeopardized when employees covered up long wait times for patients — received about $10 million in bonuses, newly released records show.

Documents from the VA indicate than 2,100 employees got bonuses over the course of a three-year period, the Arizona Republic reported (http://bit.ly/1uzKzuO) Tuesday.

The records, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show the bonuses kept increasing. The VA paid $2.5 million in 2011, $3.5 million in 2012 and $3.9 million last year. The merit-based bonuses were doled out to nearly 650 employees each of those years. The employees included doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaning staff.

“The VA employee recognition and awards program provides an entire range of rewards to recognize employees who make contributions that support goals and objectives across the facility,” Phoenix VA spokeswoman Jean Schaefe said.

A VA inspector general’s report found that 1,700 veterans seeking treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital were at risk of being “lost or forgotten” after being kept off the official waiting list.

Phoenix VA director Sharon Helman and two others were placed on administrative leave last month following allegations that some veterans may have died waiting for appointments and schedulers manipulated records.

Helman, who earns $169,000 salary annually, had her $4,900 bonus from last year rescinded by federal VA officials.

Helman was unable to be reached for comment on Tuesday. But she told The Associated Press the day she was put on leave that she was appalled by the idea she would manipulate wait times and put patient lives at risk to collect a bonus.

Federal lawmakers are working on legislation that would ban bonuses at the VA.

“It is highly disturbing that while patient care suffered, bonus pay skyrocketed. This must be the subject of a full investigation — in addition to the FBI investigation that is ongoing — and serves as another example of the systemic, cultural problem at the VA that must be addressed,” U.S. Sen. John McCain said.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee plans to conduct a hearing Friday on how bonuses are awarded to senior VA executives.

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