WASHINGTON — Senior executives from the Veterans Benefits Administration will not receive any performance bonus awards for fiscal 2012 because of lingering problems with the veterans claims backlog, department officials confirmed Friday.
A VA spokesperson said department leaders remain confident that those senior executives are “dedicated to our nation’s veterans,” but the money set aside for those awards would be reinvested in efforts to fix the backlog.
Department leaders reiterated their goal of zeroing out the backlog over the next two years.
“Too many veterans wait too long for decisions on their compensation claims, and that has never been acceptable,” they said in a statement. “That’s why VA has implemented an aggressive plan that will eliminate the decades-long compensation claims backlog in 2015.”
The announcement comes as the department faces increased scrutiny over the backlog, which has remained stagnant for more than a year. The number of disability and compensation claims pending more than 125 days has stayed near 600,000 for more than a year, and the average time to complete a claim now sits at more than nine months.
Critics have blamed the problem in part on underperforming employees and a lack of leadership among senior leaders.
VA officials could not say how much the forfeited bonuses will total. In fiscal 2011, senior executives throughout the department pulled in about $3.4 million in performance awards.
Both the White House and department officials have said they believe VA leaders are on the right path toward solving the claims backlog, thanks to new digital records systems, new training for VBA employees, and new processes designed to fast-track certain claims.
The VA drew new criticism Friday when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that top regional directors in the Pittsburgh veterans system received performance bonuses of more than $12,000 each for fiscal 2011, despite a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease which sicked 21 patients and led to five deaths.
VA administrators in Atlanta also received hefty bonuses for that year, even though internal reports showed serious management and performance problems there.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., called the move overdue.
"It's about time VA stopped rewarding employees and managers for falling behind," he said in a statement. "One can only wonder what effect this sort of policy may have had if VA had instituted it years ago."