Two years ago, Americans were horrified to learn that as many as 1,000 of our nation’s veterans had died while waiting for medical care at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. Any hopes of reforming the dysfunctional VA culture were dashed two days ago when Secretary Robert McDonald made an appalling comparison to waiting in line at Disney parks.
McDonald said, "When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience."
VA Secretary Robert McDonald compared VA wait times to those at Disney just days ahead of Memorial Day 2016
McDonald’s shockingly tone deaf and calloused statement has already prompted calls for his resignation. That couldn’t come soon enough.
Today, nearly half a million veterans still wait to see a VA doctor. According to USA Today
, more than 480,000 veterans were waiting more than 30 days for an appointment.
Later this week, our organization at OpenTheBooks.com will release the study, The VA Scandal Two Years Later. Our new VA salary/bonus data and analysis shows that while long wait times persisted, the VA added 39,454 new positions to their payroll between 2012-2015. Fewer than 1 in 11 of these new positions (3,591) were ‘Medical Officers,’ i.e. doctors. Sick veterans can’t get an appointment, because there just aren’t enough doctors.
During this period, $99.1 billion in salaries and bonuses flowed to 354,960 VA employees.
So who at the VA is receiving how much, for what type of work, and where are they located? We mapped the latest compensation data by employee and job title to local VA center ZIP codes across America. Search the salaries and bonuses at your local VA medical center here
Mapping 354,960 VA Employees Costing Taxpayers $99.1 Billion (2012-2015)
Here is what the latest VA employment and spending data shows:
- Last year, even after ‘reforms’ were instituted, we found that one of every two bonuses continued to flow to the same people who collected bonuses during the scandal. Read our Forbes column, The VA Scandal One Year Later (5/2015).
- The VA lawyered-up during the scandal – adding 175 more lawyers (2012-2015) - spending $454.4 million on ‘General Attorney’ salaries and bonuses. With 1,060 lawyers on staff, the VA now has more lawyers than all but the fourteen largest private law firms in the USA.
- In an attempt to improve its image, the VA has spent $99.4 million was spent on ‘Public Affairs’ (PR) salaries and bonuses since 2012. In 2015, the VA employed a PR corps of 304 officers – up from 262 officers in 2012.
- In 1996, the VA had zero police officers with arrest and firearm authorization. By 2008, the VA employed 3,175 officers and, by 2015, more than 3,700 VA personnel had arrest and firearm authority. Nearly $2 million was spent on riot helmets, defender shields, body armor, a "milo return fire cannon system," armored mobile shields, Kevlar blankets, tactical gear and equipment for crowd control.
The VA contractual spending is also rife with waste. Here are just a few examples:
- The VA spent $1.7 million on ‘employee engagement’ and other satisfaction surveys with Gallup (2010-2014). There is no indication these polls found, flagged or identified the most egregious scandal in VA history.
- Between 2010-2015, the VA spent $751.1 million on ‘household’ and ‘office’ furniture including furniture rental, draperies, curtains, carpeting, modification, repair and maintenance. Contracts worth $94.94 million flowed to two luxury, high-end furniture manufactures: Herman Miller ($76.04 million) and Knoll, Inc ($18.9 million). Herman Miller is based in the Kennedy-owned Merchandise Mart, Chicago and Knoll, Inc. has 40 designs in The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
- The VA paid $303 million in salaries to non-essential positions: Painters ($185 million), Interior Designers ($64 million), and Gardeners ($54 million). While veterans were dying, the VA managers were rewarding the efficiency of these positions with bonuses (2012-2015.)
The lack of spending discipline at the VA continues to harm our veteran’s healthcare needs. Consider the story of military veteran Herb Whitlock: After spending 21 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit
, Herb Whitlock was released in 2008 by an appellate court. Today, he’s battling
the VA bureaucracy.
"A three-inch metal stint was left in Whitlock’s nose three years ago after sinus surgery in 2011. Whitlock’s home is 300 round-trip miles from the nearest VA specialty clinic, but he can’t get approved for a private specialist mandated by ‘VA Choice Program Care.’ In Danville, Illinois, the VA administrators claim they, "don’t even know the qualifications for the Choice Program."
It’s been two years since the courageous whistleblower at the Phoenix VA, Dr. Sam Foote, exposed one of the biggest scandals in recent history. Employees in seven out of ten VA facilities "cooked the books" in order to collect tens of millions of dollars in performance bonuses by showing no wait times for appointments. Meanwhile, sick veterans were placed on secret wait-lists and many died awaiting care.
No one was criminally prosecuted and only eight employees were fired. Not only were ill-gotten bonuses never clawed back, new bonus rules were instituted allowing many of the same employees and administrators to continue to ‘earn’ bonuses.
McDonald’s comparison of VA wait times to those in Disney show he truly lives in a different world of magical thinking and endless bonuses. It’s time for the VA to deal with reality, embrace reform and produce results. Our nation’s veterans deserve better.
Adam Andrzejewski is CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, the world’s largest private repository of government spending.