Backlog, shmacklog: Veterans Affairs employees receive bonuses for “excellent” performance

posted at 2:01 pm on August 26, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Last spring, Department of Veterans Affairs announced that they planned to withhold the usual yearly round of bonuses for the senior officials that oversee veterans’ disability claims, pointing to both the uptick in the number of claims of the past few years as well as failures in meeting performance goals as impediments the department needs to better manage. The savings, a spokesman vaguely assured us at the time, said that the savings would be used to help reduce the running backlog and help them achieve its elimination by 2015. Just the other day, VA Secretary assured the press that the department is committed to that goal, and again defined the parameters as being able to process all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy.

Ahem. They might want to reexamine their methodologies. Via WaPo:

While veterans waited longer than ever in recent years for their wartime disability compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs gave its workers millions of dollars in bonuses for “excellent” performances that effectively encouraged them to avoid claims that needed extra work to document veterans’ injuries, a News21 investigation has found.

In 2011, a year in which the claims backlog ballooned by 155 percent, more than two-thirds of claims processors shared $5.5 million in bonuses, according to salary data from the Office of Personnel Management.

The more complex claims were often set aside by workers so they could keep their jobs, meet performance standards or, in some cases, collect extra pay, said VA claims processors and union representatives. Those claims now make up much of the VA’s widely scrutinized disability claims backlog, defined by the agency as claims pending more than 125 days.

“At the beginning of the month . . . I’d try to work my really easy stuff so I could get my numbers up,” said Renee Cotter, a union steward for the Reno, Nev., local of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

Now, claims workers said, they fear the VA’s aggressive new push to finish all one-year-old claims by Oct. 1 — and eliminate the entire backlog by 2015 — could continue the emphasis on quantity over quality in claims processing that has often led to mistakes.

I would love to believe that these bonuses were handed out on the basis of merit to those who really went above and beyond the call of duty and are really acting as a useful incentivizing tool for the department, but this is one of the biggest problems with our gigantic monster of a federal bureaucracy: Painfully slow to innovate, especially prone to inertia, and often hostile to competitive efficiencies found in the private sector. Maybe these employees did go above their performance standards, but there is clearly a problem with the performance standards themselves if they reward workers for prioritizing easy cases and throwing more difficult ones on the back-burner. That sounds an awful lot like a breeding ground for inefficiency, and it’s hardly going to help with getting all claims taken care of within the 125-day limit, is it?

Also, there’s this, via NBC:

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense spent at least $1.3 billion during the last four years trying unsuccessfully to develop a single electronic health-records system between the two departments — leaving veterans’ disability claims piling up in paper files, a News21 investigation shows. …

For a veteran in the disability claims process, these records are critical: They include DOD service and health records needed by the VA to decide veterans’ disability ratings and the compensation they will receive for their injuries.

Although Congress repeatedly has demanded an “integrated” and “interoperable” electronic health-records system, neither the DOD nor the VA is able to completely access the other’s electronic records. Meanwhile, each has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on upgrades to its information technology and on attempts to improve interoperability between their systems.

At a July congressional hearing, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he was disappointed and frustrated.  “The only thing interoperable we get are the litany of excuses flying across both departments every year as to why it has taken so long to get this done,” said Miller, the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Get it together, people.


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Lets see, an existing health care system that has decades of experience is turning into a nightmare, but creating health exchanges and hundreds other changes is going to work?

rob verdi on August 26, 2013 at 2:09 PM

After three tours in Iraq and 10 years in the Marine Corps I got out in 2008. I have not once stepped foot in a VA center. I want nothing to do with that administration/ agency.

MoreLiberty on August 26, 2013 at 2:10 PM

Lets see, an existing health care system that has decades of experience is turning into a nightmare, but creating health exchanges and hundreds other changes is going to work?

rob verdi on August 26, 2013 at 2:09 PM

Excellent obseration

iurockhead on August 26, 2013 at 2:20 PM

obseration observation

iurockhead on August 26, 2013 at 2:21 PM

MoreLiberty on August 26, 2013 at 2:10 PM

Only four years here – got out in 1996 – but I would never set one foot in the VA office. While I was in, my ex-wife had the WORST time getting anyone to take her under the military insurance provided.

Didn’t one of our resident libtrolls cite the VA/military medical service as a shining example of how well O’care will work?

VibrioCocci on August 26, 2013 at 2:25 PM

I worked in state gubmint once. The clerk that got the big bonus and praise for being up to date actually achieved that status by taking all papers left over at the end of the day, putting them in his briefcase, and then dumping them in the dumpster in the parking lot.

PattyJ on August 26, 2013 at 2:35 PM

The games and mismanagement will continue until the checks bounce. Then the people will turn off their TVs and get angry. Bankrupt USA!

Scotsman on August 26, 2013 at 2:44 PM

One of my co-workers who retired recently was a Vietnam vet. Staunch liberal through and through, everything the Dems do is great, Republicans are evil incarnate. He had some minor medical issues which he took care of through the local hospital, but I remember him saying that if he ever got seriously ill, he figured he could go to the VA hospital. I would always think to myself (because it was useless to present another view) “Yeah … good luck with that.”

PatriotGal2257 on August 26, 2013 at 2:54 PM

I bet those Senators who had to wait before they were taken care of are upset…/s

right2bright on August 26, 2013 at 3:08 PM

It’s hard to comment without knowing details of the internal situation. They may well have earned the extra money, so I say please reserve judgement until we learn more.

In related news I read that the VA in california was gifted with land they are supposed to use for homeless veterans, but they diverted it to other uses and they are being sued over it.

There are more homeless vets every day and I’ve read several articles that report nineteen veterans commit suicide every day.

dogsoldier on August 26, 2013 at 4:22 PM

It’s not just the VA. It’s not just the IRS. It’s not just the NSA. It’s not just “Richard Windsor” at the EPA. It’s not just President Jarrett’s administration, although they’ve contributed. It’s not just the Dems. It’s the whole damn thing.

The behemoth of “government” has gotten so out of control of We The People, has gotten so self-serving, has gone so far beyond what the founders intended. It has no ability to reverse the pattern, nor does it want to – it exists now, like any tumor, to feed and grow itself. This movie doesn’t end well.

bofh on August 26, 2013 at 4:29 PM

and today I get my VA letter for obamacare.
looks like they are trying to enroll vets in it by default for non-service connected issues.
debating tossing it.

dmacleo on August 26, 2013 at 4:48 PM

Bonuses for crapping on veterans. No penalties for criminally negligent manslaughter in Benghazi. $14 a day meals for Gitmo prisoners while their military guards must suffice with $4 a day fare. NSA spying on emails. IRS persecution of conservative groups. Bribes and kickbacks to pass Obamacare while the architects and enforcers of this inferior product are immune from its consequences. No oil development in a nation which should be self sufficient as a sellout to environmentalists. A PC structure where taxes and discrimination fall mainly on whites,Christians,servicemen, older people and veterans.

Time has come to consider–in today’s bureaucratically-run country is it unpatriotic to be patriotic?

MaiDee on August 26, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Bonuses for crapping on veterans. No penalties for criminally negligent manslaughter in Benghazi. $14 a day meals for Gitmo prisoners while their military guards must suffice with $4 a day fare. NSA spying on emails. IRS persecution of conservative groups. Bribes and kickbacks to pass Obamacare while the architects and enforcers of this inferior product are immune from its consequences. No oil development in a nation which should be self sufficient as a sellout to environmentalists. A PC structure where taxes and discrimination fall mainly on whites,Christians,servicemen, older people and veterans.

Time has come to consider–in today’s bureaucratically-run country is it unpatriotic to be patriotic?

MaiDee on August 26, 2013 at 5:27 PM

We need a plan to merge the benefits plans in the US military and US government employees. There’s no way in h that a corrupt paper-pusher in the IRS should have a better plan than soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators.

slickwillie2001 on August 26, 2013 at 7:07 PM

Look, I experienced the backlog firsthand…I put in my claim in 2009, and didn’t receive a final determination until early 2013. But while it IS a big deal, it’s not incompetence that’s causing it…there are just so many new claims that if they had been staffed for them, it would’ve been a massive case of government waste.

After three tours in Iraq and 10 years in the Marine Corps I got out in 2008. I have not once stepped foot in a VA center. I want nothing to do with that administration/ agency.

MoreLiberty on August 26, 2013 at 2:10 PM

You will probably live to regret that. Certain programs for which you may have been eligible are no longer available to you. I made the cutoff for one of them by ten days.

And someone else needs to read that letter more carefully…it states that if you have VA medical care, you are exempt from enrolling in Obamacare. I’ve never been happier to have the VA on my side.

James on August 26, 2013 at 8:30 PM

I’m a vet, and I have used the VA hospital at Bay Pines, FL since 2001. With two exceptions, the doctors I have dealt with have been fine, and my primary and ortho doctors are excellent. Since I am more than 50 percent service connected, I don’t even have a co-pay. I have Blue Cross from my job, and I still prefer using the VA.

entropent on August 26, 2013 at 10:08 PM