Sharon Helman, who directed the Phoenix VA Health Care System when patient appointments were backlogged weeks or months, and some patients died awaiting care, will keep her bonus and pay raise of close to $10,000 thanks to a judge's ruling. The Department of Veterans Affairs, who lost the court judgement, was attempting to rescind the bonus paid to the former director of its hospital.
One of the factors behind Helman initially receiving the bonus was for accomplishing wait-time goals. It turned out that those goals and the bonuses that came from meeting them were the motivating factor behind the phony appointment records from the 2014 VA scandal.
The Department of Veterans Affairs claimed that Sharon Helman received the bonus by mistake. The VA said that then-Secretary Eric Shinseki personally had marked a document to block Helman's bonus, but an employee mistakenly processed the extra pay.
Helman, who was placed on leave in May 2014 and fired six months later, was said to have participated in wait-time manipulation, whistle-blower retaliation and conflicts of interest.
Her lawyers claim Helman "did not manipulate wait-time data," describe the case against her as a "proven fabrication," and say she was "the target of a congressional witch hunt."
And it turns out that Helman was not alone in receiving a bonus even though she was a major player in the VA scandal uncovered in 2014.
Nationally, the Department of Veterans Affairs doled out more than $142 million in bonuses to executives and employees for performance in 2014, even as scandals over veterans' health care and other issues racked the agency.
According to USA Today, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, described the bonus program as a prime example of the department's "blatant ineptitude and fiscal irresponsibility."
While touting its bonus program as a way to attract and retain the best and brightest, VA continually pays thousands in taxpayer-funded bonuses to employees with proven records of incompetence and corruption year after year," he added in a written statement to The Arizona Republic.
Miller went on to say that the “VA’s indifference regarding this serious problem is another disturbing reminder that until its leaders commit to supporting real accountability — something they have refused to do thus far — efforts to reform the department are doomed to fail.”
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