The House Veterans Affairs Committee will do something out of the ordinary on Monday, holding a congressional hearing in a Pittsburgh courthouse more than 200 miles from Washington.
The panel is scheduled to question Department of Veterans Affairs officials about fatal mistakes at the agency’s hospitals and bonuses that went out to the executives who oversaw those facilities.
Lawmakers will also hear from the family members of victims, including some related to patients who died in an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at the agency’s Pittsburgh medical centers.
The past few years have been tough for the VA, as Jon Stewart mockingly pointed out in a “Daily Show” segment last week. The television host hit the agency with a barrage of criticism, jabbing the agency for patient-safety issues, performance pay and a longstanding backlog of disability claims.
The VA backlog rose to 900,000 cases this year before the agency addressed the issue with a “surge” that included mandatory overtime for claims processors.
President Obama announced during a speech in August that the VA had reduced its backlog to about 500,000 cases. Nonetheless, nearly 30,000 veterans signed a petition last month calling for the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki because of the ongoing problem.
As for the bonuses, CBS reported that the VA awarded $63,000 in performance pay to the regional director who oversaw the agency’s Pittsburgh hospitals, shortly after an inspector general determined that those medical centers failed to prevent the Legionnaire’s outbreak. The agency handed out tens of thousands of dollars to other officials who headed clinics with similar patient-care issues, CBS said.
A report from the Government Accountability Office last month showed that the VA spent about $150 million on bonuses without reasonable assurances that the added pay was linked to performance. Rep. Jeff Miller, (R.-Fla.), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee has proposed legislation to stop VA executive bonuses for the next five years.
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