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VA Accountability Watch

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a wealth of services for some 22 million American veterans, but a rash of preventable veteran deaths, infectious disease outbreaks and benefit and construction delays has put the organization under intense scrutiny.

Despite the fact that multiple VA Inspector General reports have linked many VA patient care problems to widespread mismanagement within VA facilities and GAO findings that VA bonus pay has no clear link to performance, the department has consistently defended its celebration of executives who presided over these events, while giving them glowing performance reviews and cash bonuses of up to $63,000.

VA Accountability Watch is dedicated to showing America’s veterans and American taxpayers how the department’s widespread and systemic lack of accountability may actually be encouraging more veteran suffering instead of preventing it.

Does VA have the proper management and accountability structures in place to stop preventable veteran deaths, serious patient-safety issues and benefit and construction delays? Consider the following recent examples and let us know what you think on Facebook.

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Washington, DC

Diana Rubens, the VA executive in charge of the nearly 60 offices that process disability benefits compensation claims, collected almost $60,000 in bonuses while presiding over a near seven-fold increase in backlogged claims.

Washington, DC

VA construction chief Glenn Haggstrom collected almost $55,000 in performance bonuses despite presiding over a host of major construction projects plagued by years-long delays and combined cost overruns of $1.5 billion. The Government Accountability Office documented the delays and cost overruns for projects in Las Vegas, Denver, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla., in an April 2013 report. When questioned at a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing in May, Haggstrom could not explain what he did to earn the bonuses.

St. Louis, Missouri

More than 1,800 veteran patients of the St. Louis VA Medical Center may have been exposed to HIV and Hepatitis as a result of unsanitary dental equipment. The facility has remained under fire for patient deaths, persistent patient-safety issues and critical reports. Despite the problems at the medical center, the facility’s director from 2009 - 2013, RimaAnn Nelson, received nearly $25,000 in bonuses during her tenure there.

Fayetteville, NC

A December 2012 audit of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center found facility employees did not complete required suicide prevention follow-ups 90 percent of the time for patients at a high risk of suicide. The audit also found the center “noncompliant” in cleanliness of patient care areas, environmental safety, dental clinic safety, training and testing procedures. In July 2012, during an investigation that substantiated patient misdiagnosis complaints, VA’s inspector general found the responsible physician failed to properly review medication information 56 percent of the time, a step that is “critical to appropriate evaluation, treatment planning, and safety.” Fayetteville VA Medical Center Director Elizabeth B. Goolsby received a performance bonus of $7,604 in 2012.

Dallas, Texas

Dallas VA Medical Center Director Jeff Milligan and regional director Lawrence Biro have received a combined $50,000 in bonuses since 2011 despite a series of allegations from VA workers, patients and family members regarding poor care at the facility as well as more than 30 certification agency complaints against the medical center in the last three years.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The director of VA’s Philadelphia regional office, Thomas Lastowka, received a $23,000 bonus in 2011 despite a doubling in the backlog of disability compensation claims at the office between 2010 and 2011.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix VA Regional Office Director Sandra Flint has received more than $53,000 in bonuses since 2007 despite a doubling in the office’s backlog of disability compensation claims since 2009.

Columbia, South Carolina

Columbia VA Regional Office Director Carl Hawkins received almost $80,000 in bonuses despite a doubling in the office’s backlog of disability compensation claims and inappropriate shredding of disability claims documents.

Waco, Texas

Carl Lowe, the former director of the VA regional office in Waco, Texas, raked in more than $53,000 in bonuses as the office’s average disability claims processing time grew to historic levels, forcing veterans to wait longer than anywhere else in the country.

Buffalo, New York

David West, a VA health official in New York, pocketed nearly $26,000 in bonuses while overseeing chronic misuse of insulin pens that potentially exposed hundreds of veterans to blood-borne illnesses.

Dayton, Ohio

For nearly 18 years, the dental clinic at the Dayton VA Medical Center allowed unsanitary practices, potentially exposing hundreds of patients to hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Dayton VA Medical Center Director Guy Richardson then collected an $11,874 bonus despite an investigation into the exposures. After nine of the exposed patients tested positive Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, Richardson was promoted.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

After persistent management failures led to a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, VA Pittsburgh director Terry Gerigk Wolf received a perfect performance review and regional director Michael Moreland, who oversees VA Pittsburgh, collected a $63,000 bonus.

Atlanta, Georgia

Despite four preventable patient deaths, three of which VA’s inspector general linked to widespread mismanagement, former Atlanta VA Medical Center Director James Clark received $65,000 in bonuses over four years. Additionally, the facility’s current director, Leslie Wiggins, maintains that no employees responsible for the mismanagement linked to the deaths should be fired.