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According to the Arizona Republic, the Phoenix VA Health Care System whose failures were the first revealed as part of the VA scandal, paid out about $10 million dollars of bonuses over the past three years, while they were manipulating patient wait-time records and killing Vets so they could get bonuses.

The report indicates that bonuses grew significantly under Sharon Helman, who became director of the Phoenix VA in February 2012. Helman was placed on administrative leave last month because of the scandal.

Records show 4,188 bonuses were paid over the past three fiscal years to more than 2,150 employees, including doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaners. Nearly 650 VA employees received a bonus in each of the three years. The VA has about 2,500 employees.

The bonus totals increased from $2.5 million in 2011, to $3.5 million in 2012 and $3.9 million in 2013. The figures obtained by The Republic are much larger than figures recently posted online by two watchdog groups.

“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,” said Jean Schaefer, a Phoenix VA spokeswoman.

Roughly half of the Phoenix bonus payments went to doctors as part of a “physician performance pay” program.

The VA has trouble retaining doctors because pay is lower than in the private sector. But the VA can increase their pay with bonuses for exceeding goals based on productivity, quality, research and education, efficiency/access and patient/staff satisfaction. The highest physician performance pay last year was $15,000. Doctors also can receive merit bonuses in a pool available to the rest of the staff.

Helman, whose salary was $169,879, gave herself a $9,345 bonus in fiscal 2013, and about $1,000 to cover taxes she paid on her Phoenix relocation allowance.  Associate Director Lance Robinson and Health Administration Services
Director Brad Curry, both of whom joined Helman in the penalty box received $3,000 bonuses in fiscal

Other bonuses included:

• Some job categories were rewarded with large bonuses, including dieticians and nutritionists. Five received bonuses in excess of $10,000 in 2012 and 2013. The bonuses ranged from 9 to 30 percent of the dieticians’ other pay for the year.

• Bonuses were given out to lower-paid employees as well. Fifteen custodians received bonuses of more than 6 percent of their pay in one of the past three years, as did more than a dozen clerks and assistants and 10 employees who work in medical support assistance.

It’s hard to understand bonuses being given in the public sector. In the private sector bonuses are generally given when the entire company has a “good year.”  The United States government has not had a good year and is operating at a huge loss. The National Debt is over $17 trillion for Pete’s sake why are we giving bonuses. Now place on top of that the recent track record of the VA even before the scandal broke.  Approving these or any bonuses for anyone in the VA is an indication that the VA Chief, the Administration, and the Congress are ignoring their fiduciary responsibilities.

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