Reform system, cut VA bonuses
As an employee of the VA health care system for more than 28 years, on active duty for almost four years, and an active veteran advocate since 2007, I think the VA health care system needs to be reformed, not privatized or eliminated.
There was a time when VA managers genuinely cared that veterans received the best care possible. But along the way, more incentives developed for VA managers to “game the system” for bonuses than to provide quality care for our veterans.
I experienced that mindset firsthand when the VA became managed through Veterans Integrated Service Networks, started in the late 1990s, which created silos of bureaucrats deciding how to divvy up and use money to best demonstrate how they saved money. The result: bonuses.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, I discovered the VISN 20 director received $99,000 in bonuses between 2005 and 2010. VISN 20 manages the VA facilities in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Del Norte County, California. The numerous directors, acting directors and interim directors of VA Roseburg received more than $49,000 in bonuses. Total bonuses for VISN 20 managers in Vancouver, Washington, and managers at VA Roseburg totaled more than $454,000.
Since 2005, the VA Roseburg intensive care unit closed, specialty services like surgeries were downsized, inpatient beds decreased, mental health services limited, and outsourcing became commonplace. When asked why, VA Roseburg management justified the decisions by stating that staff shortages and lack of training could compromise patient safety. Could it be that it also demonstrated “cost savings,” which is rewarded by bonuses? Why not spend money on additional qualified staff and increase training? Their answer: Qualified applicants don’t want to come to a rural area. I say that’s hogwash!