McDonald criticized during hearing on VA bonuses bill

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald at the VA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2014. McDonald testified at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2014, that the VA needed 'tens of thousands' more medical staff.


By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 27, 2015

In a sign that some lawmakers may be losing patience with the man brought in to clean up the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Secretary Bob McDonald came under unusually personal criticism Tuesday during a hearing on a bill that would give him sweeping powers to rescind bonuses and reduce pensions.

After VA officials told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs that the department had not taken a position on the bill, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., gave a pointed response.

“We have a secretary of Veterans Affairs who can’t make a decision on something that’s so obvious,” he said. “It’s just extraordinary, and what it says to me and what it says to the veterans of this country is nothing’s really changed.”

The VA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. McDonald, who replaced Eric Shinseki in July, has come under fire for not doing more to hold accountable officials connected to a health-care scandal. He has said that he must work within the legal framework established to discipline employees.

VA counsel Kim McLeod said she is not aware of any current mechanism the department has to recoup bonuses from employees, except in the case of administrative errors.

The bill, introduced this month by House Committee on Veterans Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., is a response to what he sees as inaction in the face of the nationwide VA crisis. Many senior executives tied to secret lists that had veterans waiting months for care remain in their jobs or on paid administrative leave. Some received lucrative bonuses.

“It’s stunning to me that the VA does not have the ability to recoup a bonus if a crime is committed,” Miller said.

H.R. 280 would also limit the amount of time employees being investigated for malfeasance can spend on administrative leave, and the number of senior executives who receive bonuses in a single year.

VA officials said the department is still researching the bill. Veterans advocacy groups were generally supportive of it.

“When an executive receives a bonus after overseeing a system that failed veterans and caused suffering, it erodes the confidence of those veterans in the system meant to serve them,” according to submitted testimony from Zachary Hearn, the American Legion’s deputy director for claims, veterans affairs and rehabilitation.

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