The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Friday, August 21, 2009

VA's bad bonuses and unauthorized education benefits

This morning, Associated Press published a story about a new VA Office of the Inspector General report, citing serious ethics violations and more than $24 million in wasteful bonuses--many delivered to VA information technology employees prior to the completion of certain projects.

To view the OIG report, Click Here.

The report focused on a former VA assistant secretary for information and technology, Robert Howard, his executive assistant, Jennifer Duncan, and other managers within VA's Office of Information & Technology (OI&T), who distributed $24,011,484 in inappropriate bonuses to employees in 2007 and 2008. Duncan, herself, received combined bonuses over the two-year period worth more than $60,000. The report accuses Howard and Duncan of mismanaging VA's performance bonus policies, considering OI&T's budget deficit, and recommends further training for OI&T directors to ensure compliance with the law.

According to the report, the OI&T also distributed $124,908.88 in unauthorized education benefits for family members, friends, and other VA employees. OIG has recommended that VA recover all of the funds inappropriately distributed to finance advanced academic programs.

While AMVETS certainly understands that this happened under a VA administration long removed and that current VA leadership is looking to recover the education funds, these ethics violations are inexcusable.

This morning, CNN reported that the VA claims backlog can be estimated at about 400,000 claims awaiting adjudication. So while VA employees enjoyed lavish bonuses for work they had not completed, hundreds of thousands of veterans struggled to make ends meet as they awaited judgment on their pending claims.

In a couple of weeks, the first Post-9/11 G.I. Bill payments are due, and we're hearing grumblings in Washington that the VA won't make the deadline. Seems like bad timing for this report, since the VA had no problem distributing unauthorized tuition payments for its own in 2007.

Two years ago, the Administration sought to reduce funding for VA's Office of the Inspector General. At the time, AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley testified that the VA needed OIG to be fully funded in order to properly police the second-largest department in the federal government. Congress ultimately decided to increase its funding for OIG.

"To think you can cut a cost through OIG is ridiculous. So many lives and so much money is at stake with the VA," Kelley said. "Tuesday's report is just another example of why OIG's work is critical to VA's mission of serving vets."

AMVETS is happy that OIG caught these abuses of authority and hopes that the current Administration will do everything in its power to remedy the situation.

American Veteran will follow this story closely. In the meantime, please let us know what you think.