May 11, 2007, The horror stories about substandard medical care for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are by now well-known.
Perhaps even more shocking are the results of a recent investigation by the Associated Press , which found that, despite a $1 billion budget shortfall last year, the Veterans Administration handed out $3.8 million in bonuses to senior executives who run the agency. Some executives received bonuses of $33,000, equal to one-fifth their total annual salary.
This round of handouts took place while the list of veterans awaiting decisions on their disability benefits has reached 400,000. They wait an average of six months to receive the benefits they earned on the battlefield.
In hearings before a congressional committee last week, VA head Jim Nicholson vowed to improve care and service. He pointed to progress on a joint Pentagon-VA effort to reform the system. In addition, he said the bonuses were necessary to attract and hold quality employees.
Asked about the budget shortfall, Nicholson said the VA “can probably always make good use of more money.”
Of course, despite that budget shortfall last year, Nicholson had extra money on hand for bonuses.
Members of Congress, taxpayers and most especially veterans and their families, have a right to be outraged by the situation. First District Rep. Tim Walz is among those in Congress supporting legislation that would withhold bonuses until the backlog of disability cases is reduced to fewer than 100,000. It is unfortunate that Congress has to make such threats to get action for our veterans.
A government that sends men and women to war has an obligation to provide gold-standard care when those veterans return. After four years of war, this government is not meeting that obligation. To hand out bonuses in the face of that failure is an insult to the troops.