The Washington Post

House passes bill to give veterans in-state tuition, halt VA executive bonuses

(Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters) (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

The House this week unanimously passed a bill that would expand veterans’ educational benefits and end bonuses for the senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs for five years.

The measure, approved on Monday, was introduced last year by Reps. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who head the House Veterans Affairs Committee. It would require all schools eligible for GI Bill benefits to give veterans in-state tuition rates regardless of where those individuals have actually established residence.

The legislation would also eliminate all bonuses for VA senior executives during fiscal years 2014 through 2018, for a projected savings of $18 million over that period, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The bill includes other provisions that would extend the VA’s work-study program through 2018 and increase the time frame for veterans to use their vocational rehabilitation benefits from 12 years to 17 years, among other measures.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who led the House floor debate on the legislation, said Wednesday that the measure gives lawmakers a chance to help veterans transition out of their military lives. “Too often, our veterans have difficulty reintegrating back in civilian life, and Congress should be doing all that it can to make things easier for our heroes,” he said in a statement.

The VA has taken fire for paying large bonuses to senior officials despite a longstanding backlog of disability claims, and a federal watchdog report that said the department awarded bonuses to most of its doctors and dentists despite lacking reasonable assurances that the extra pay was linked to performance.

A CBS report last year revealed that the VA awarded $63,000 in performance pay to one of its regional directors shortly after a probe determined that his medical centers had failed to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease.

The Senior Executives Association has warned that cutting bonuses for VA’s top leaders could cause those employees to seek work in the private sector or with other agencies, where they can potentially earn more money. The group’s president, Carol Bonosaro, said in letter to Miller and Michaud last year that the federal government’s senior executives are by and large hard-working and effective managers who deserve their bonuses.

“To the extent that there are actual instances of senior executives engaging in misconduct or sub-par performance and still receiving awards, it is the rare exception rather than the norm,” Bonosaro said, adding that agencies can take action against those who abuse their positions or fail to meet expectations.

On Wednesday, the association released a statement saying the hold on bonuses “sends a negative message to VA senior executives that their work is not valued and that the pay-for-performance system is broken; further, it ties the hands of VA leadership, which would be severely limited in its ability to recognize stellar performance.”

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debate Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Heading into the next debate...
Donald Trump returns to the Republican presidential debate stage Saturday night. Marco Rubio arrives as a sudden star, but fending off ferocious attacks from his rivals. Still glowing from his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz is trying to consolidate conservative support, while Ben Carson is struggling to avoid being typecast as the dead man walking.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote.
New Hampshire polling averages
Polling in New Hampshire has typically been volatile after Iowa's caucuses, but Bernie Sanders, from its neighboring state Vermont, has been holding a lead over Hillary Clinton.
55% 38%
Play Video
Upcoming debates
Feb. 6: GOP debate

on ABC News, in Manchester, N.H.

Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.