By Chad Garland, News21
Congresswoman Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) called for a review of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ bonus structure under Secretary Eric Shinseki’s oversight in the days after a News21 report on VA bonuses was first published.
The congresswoman called the claims backlog “unacceptably large” and said, the current bonus structure “may be providing an incentive to push more complex cases to the back of the line.”
According to an announcement, posted on Sinema’s website, “Requests for help with accessing needed benefits from the VA are the most common in Sinema’s constituent services office.”
“While I’m pleased the VA has set closer deadlines for claims, many Arizona veterans have waited for many months or even years to receive the critical care they need,” she said in a statement. “These men and women have sacrificed for our safety and freedom and they deserve a timely and dignified process. The VA must do better.”
A News21 investigation showed that while veterans waited longer than ever in recent years for their wartime disability compensation, the VA 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.
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 VA’s widely scrutinized disability claims backlog, defined by the agency as claims pending more than 125 days.