Thursday, May 03, 2007

Stepped in what?

The outraged headline screamed, “Bonuses in spite of vet cuts!” It headed a front page column that spoke of bonuses to government employees. Bonuses. Bonuses from a “cash-strapped VA” which “gave staffers up to $33,000.”

The article beneath the headline details the awarding of “more than $3.8 million in payments by a financially strapped agency straining to care for thousands of injured veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.” Apparently bonuses went to a number of higher-up who were responsible for crafting “the VA’s flawed budget for 2005 based on misleading accounting.” Another top level exec, the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who helps manage a disability claims system that has a backlog of cases and delays averaging 177 days in getting benefits to injured veterans.” The article goes on to describe the bonuses as “the most lucrative in government.”

These are performance bonuses ladies and gentlemen.

Can you imagine how much the Department of Veterans Affairs [DVA] would have stiffed the American taxpayers if they had been running things correctly?

The DVA has been very proactive in dodging a well deserved bullet caused by the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal a few months back. They should have been painted with guilt by association, for their operations in many cases mirror what was found at Walter Reed in a disgusting insult to our Wounded Warriors. Press releases touted the various studies done by DVA researchers on heart disease, and how the DVA in the wake of the Walter Reed situation was hiring a paltry 100 more patient advocates.

It started in 2005 with the dishonest accounting practiced by those executives who wrote the budget request for the DVA, eventually leading to a request for funding to cover a $1 billion dollar shortfall.

Then we had to peel back layer after layer of the cover up of the data security breach when a VA employee lost a desktop in a home robbery that contained the personal data [names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security Numbers] of over 25 million Veterans. Later there was another data breach.

Then we come to the money wasting performance of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, who authorized this press release today to try to ward of the criticism over the “performance bonuses.”
Statement from VA Press Secretary Matt Burns On Performance Awards to Some Senior Career Civil Servants WASHINGTON (May 3, 2007) -- VA and its leaders are committed to providing the best possible care and services to our nation's veterans. To best fulfill that commitment, VA needs to be able to retain knowledgeable and professional career civil servants. VA often must compete with significantly higher private sector salaries to keep its career executive leaders.

One of the tools the Congress has given government agencies to help keep experienced career executives in public service is performance-based awards, which make their compensation more competitive with the private sector. Without such tools, VA would be much less likely to retain its most experienced career civil servants - which could reduce the quality of services provided to veterans and increase costs to taxpayers in the long run."

# # #

Background on VA Budget: VA and the Administration have requested a budget of nearly $87 billion for VA in FY 08. This budget proposal represents a 77 percent increase in the overall budget since FY 01, and more than 83 percent more for health care spending. With the continued support of Congress, the Administration's FY 08 budget will provide VA with the resources it needs to continue its important mission.
Pardon us, but we see this press release as the reason for the title of this post: it is something you must scrape off your shoe before entering your house.

Bonuses for the DVA employees have risen sharply since 2002 when they averaged $8,120 per year until it was more than doubled to $16,713 just three years later! During the same period the whole U.S. government averaged from a little over $12,000 per year average to $13,814 in 2005.

So while the DVA press release brags about the 83% increase in healthcare spending over roughly the same period shown above, they were enjoying a 100% increase in their bonuses.

Indeed, the bonuses are legal, authorized by legislation all the way back in the late 1970s. However, there is something wrong with this reasoning.

As taxpayers, we do not want our employees [those who work for the government] to work and make careers in which they get rich, we want committed employees who are in their positions because of earning it the hard way, through merit. Bonuses send the wrong signal to the employees.

If, as the DVA press release deceptively insists, the bonuses are used to compete with private industry in keeping good, qualified personnel working in government, then it is, based on the performance of the DVA, a complete and abysmal failure. These are generally political appointments to start with, and as such, they have no business receiving bonuses for doing their jobs. Instead, they have a salary which they agreed to accept when they accepted the appointment. So these bonuses are simply a ruse to further reward the appointees for political favors performed while in office, such as cutting expenses to save budget money so the President can continue to divert money to fund the War in Iraq.

We do not oppose the War, indeed, we see this in part as being a result of the squeeze Congress has put on the President. Nevertheless, the bonus system must go, and not just in the DVA.

But that is not all that needs to go. Secretary Nicholson needs to go, too! And immediately, if for no other reason than the fact that he has approved these bonus versions of highway robbery committed on the American Taxpayer and done so while crying the blues over lack of funding, dishonestly submitting a dishonest budget, and in general, run the DVA into the ground where. There is little guarantee of information privacy, signaling a total loss of trust from the people who absolutely must rely on the DVA for their health care and other benefits.

And then, there is the Blue Water Navy business, were Nicholson is spending oodles of money to avoid paying Naval Veterans of the Vietnam War benefits under Agent Orange. It is despicable that he should do this as he is a Naval Veteran of the Vietnam War, which shows how much he is lacking in integrity, that he would let shipmates die before agreeing to pay their claims and treat them.

We believe this to be criminal negligence, and have previously called for his resignation a number of times here. We hope that this time you readers will heed our call to contact your Senators and Congressmen and demand Nicholson’s job, and those of his political cronies, too. Ask for, no, demand an investigation into Nicholson’s actions since becoming the Secretary. Perhaps a closer look into the new VA Hospital deal at the former site of the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, and the mega-millions that a Colorado contractor made on the land sales of a property the Department of Defense should have deeded directly to the DVA! That smells so bad the stench is overwhelming.

Nicholson has done nothing to recommend him as Secretary and everything that has happened negatively has been his responsibility. His decisions are suspect enough to warrant criminal investigations. In the meantime, get him out of town, NOW! Before he does any more damage.

Nicholson has created a Department of Veterans Affairs that "...has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield." That is grounds for firing. We can only pray that he never received a "performance bonus".

VN Vets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." -- President Abraham Lincoln

"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --
President George Washington

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