Bonuses for senior executives in the Department of Veterans Affairs should end forever, not just for 2014.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The News-Review learned that top administrators at the Roseburg VA Medical Center reaped more than $80,000 in bonuses over the past five years. It’s possible the figures are even higher. We asked for the amount awarded in bonuses. The VA responded that it doesn’t give bonuses, but rather “performance awards,” but the federal agency provided those figures.
A former VA employee submitted a FOIA request in 2011 and knew to ask for performance awards and “special contribution” bonuses — it helps when you know the terminology used within a particular bureaucracy. That request turned up an additional $7,699 on top of a $14,000 performance award for former Roseburg VA Director Susan Yeager in fiscal year 2008. In 2010, she was given $3,500 for a special contribution while Associate Director Steve Broskey got $3,750 on top of his $4,000 performance award that year.
Broskey’s bonuses continued from 2009 to 2013, amounting to $17,900 over that time period. Nurse Executive Tracy Weistreich received bonuses of $22,400 over the past five years, exceeding any other Roseburg VA administrator.
Current Director Carol Bogedain has only been director for two full fiscal years and part of another, yet in that time she took in $15,597 in bonuses. The Roseburg VA did not provide — time for another FOIA request — the current salaries of the top Roseburg VA executives. The salaries should be provided since they are public servants who are paid with your tax dollars.
A Roseburg VA spokesman said the administrators earned bonuses of between 2 and 5 percent of their salaries. That equates to Bogedain pulling down anywhere from $160,000 to $400,000 annually. A salary like that makes the bonuses look like pocket change, and makes them seem that much more unwarranted.
Congressman Peter DeFazio echoed that thought when he visited with our Editorial Board last week.
“Substantial bonuses on top of a regular salary are unnecessary,” he said. “I just don’t think they need to be part of the federal system.”
DeFazio also agreed there are problems with the culture within the VA, though he said he wasn’t speaking of the physicians, nurses and line staff.
“It’s a very difficult bureaucracy that no one’s taken from the top and shaken,” he said, noting that he hopes new VA Secretary Robert McDonald will do that.
It has to be particularly insulting for the family of Sgt. Ray Velez to see the bonuses paid to administrators in a year when Velez died following a routine surgery at the Roseburg VA. The VA has yet to release the report explaining what went wrong that day. When the outcome of patient care is death, it’s hard to fathom how a nurse executive or chief of staff, for example, could earn a performance award.
The awards have also been blamed for motivating executives nationwide to falsify patient records, delaying access to care. In Roseburg, 30 percent of VA employees say they were asked to falsify information.
The practice of awarding bonuses to top administrators must end.