Two-thirds of employees at the Department of Veteran Affairs, which has been the subject of widespread criticism for its excessive delays in providing veterans their benefits, received bonuses at the end of 2011 for “excellent” or “outstanding” performance. Additionally, employees at some of the department’s most ineffective offices were more likely to receive bonuses than workers at some of its most productive offices.
The VA’s regional office in Oakland, Calif., gave about 90 percent of its employees bonuses despite having to temporarily shut down operations to retrain its underperforming workers and, in a Baltimore office, about 40 percent of workers receive a bonus despite the office’s having the longest wait time nationally, according to a News21 investigation. Yet, at the Sioux Falls, S.D., office, which processes claims up to four times more efficiently than Oakland, less than a tenth of its employees saw a bonus, the same investigation found.
Overall, employees received about $5.5 million in bonuses. According to the report, the department’s performance standards encourage workers to push aside more complicated claims and process easier ones to ensure their job security and qualify for extra pay through a points system. One Veterans Benefits Administration official said in defense of the bonuses, ”There are many, many employees who are exceeding their minimum standards, and they deserve to be recognized for that.”
The agendy’s standards no longer allow employees to earn points for “supplemental development” — that is, making follow-up contacts and going through other documents in an effort to minimize the time employees spend on such issues. But as a result, the quality of work has worsened – documents show that nearly three-quarters of appeal claims were either done incorrectly or without complete information and that approximately 14,000 veterans had pending appeals of more than two years.
One employee told News21 that the current process “breeds cheating,” as employees resort to “survival mode” and work only on easy claims at the expense of backlog claims. “Your backlog is over here. But your points are in this direction. How stupid is that?” one employee said.