The chairman of a House panel wants to stop hefty bonus payments to senior Veterans Affairs Department officials until they reduce a severe backlog of veterans waiting for disability benefits.
Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) said he was introducing legislation to place a hold on this year's bonuses after the Associated Press reported that senior VA officials involved in a budget foul-up which jeopardized veterans' healthcare received bonuses ranging up to $33,000.
Under the measure, 2007 bonuses could not be released until the VA pares down its backlog to fewer than 100,000 casesa feat the VA has said could take many months, if not years. Currently, the backlog of claims ranges from between 400,000 to more than 600,000, with delays averaging 177 days.
A list obtained by the AP of bonuses to senior career officials in 2006 documents a generous package of more than $3.8 million in payments by a financially strapped agency straining to help care for thousands of injured veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The disclosure prompted outrage on Capitol Hill, where Democratic leaders have demanded an explanation from VA Secretary Jim Nicholson and said they would hold hearings to investigate. The VA says the bonuses were needed to help retain hardworking employees.
Among those receiving top bonuses of $33,000 was the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who helps manage a disability claims system with the backlog that Nicholson now says is unacceptable. -- by the Associated Press