Phoenix VA Handed out $10 Million in Bonuses as Veterans Languished on Waiting Lists

The Phoenix Veterans Administration is back in the spotlight -- this time for handing out $10 million in bonuses to doctors and administrators as hundreds of veterans waited to see doctors, some dying before receiving healthcare.

The Arizona Republic of Phoenix recently discovered that over the last three years the Phoenix VA had doled out hefty bonuses to employees as wait lists mounted.

Reporters requested the information on the bonuses "at least 10 times" before the VA finally came through with the records.

Bonuses steadily increased prior to 2012 -- but when Sharon Helman became director of the Phoenix VA, the rate of bonuses surged.

The paper found that 4,188 bonuses to over 2,000 employees were paid out during the three-year period covering their records request.

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

Nearly half the payouts went to doctors as part of a "physician performance pay" program.

Drector Helman herself came in for some nice payouts.

"Helman, whose salary was $169,879, received a $9,345 bonus in fiscal 2013, and about $1,000 to cover taxes she paid on her Phoenix relocation allowance," the paper reported. "An $8,495 bonus awarded in February was rescinded." Helman was placed on administrative leave in May.

In April, several news outlets charged that up to 40 veterans died waiting for healthcare that would never come.

The following month, Kansas state Sen. Jerry Moran demanded that something be done to fix the VA.

Even many Democrats turned against the Obama administration over the issue. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) was incensed over the bonuses.

"Awarding bonuses to anyone who knew about misleading data and hidden lists is infuriating. The VA should fire those who knowingly participated in corruption, and it should overhaul its appointment scheduling system so that veterans, not financial rewards, are the priority," Kirkpatrick said.

Before VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned from his post, vulnerable Democrats criticized the administration over the scandal, demanding that Shinseki be fired.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com


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