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Phoenix VA officials earned $10 million in bonuses while veterans allegedly died waiting for care

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson visits the Phoenix VA facility.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson visits the Phoenix VA facility.
Laura Segall / Getty Images News

The troubled Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix paid out roughly $10 million in bonuses to employees as veterans allegedly died waiting for care, The Arizona Republic reports.

Nearly 4,200 bonuses were paid out over three years to more than 2,150 employees, according to records obtained by The Arizona Republic. The bonuses increased over time, as well: $2.5 million in 2011, $3.5 million in 2012, and $3.9 million in 2013.

During this time period, the Phoenix VA facility is accused of manipulating scheduling records to hide thousands of patients waiting for appointments. The inspector general's preliminary report found veterans in Phoenix waited 115 days on average for their first primary care appointment. That's far higher than the 24 days of waiting reported by Phoenix to the official VA system.

In some cases, the long wait period may have cost lives: CNN reported that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care.

At least some of the pay bonuses are at the heart of the VA scandal. Federal rules previously tasked local VA officials with meeting a 14-day waiting goal for seeing patients, with pay bonuses acting as incentives to meet the goal. At the same time, the VA has been dealing with growing patient demand and a doctor shortage. So when local VA officials perceived the goal as unattainable due to limited resources, they falsified records to get the bonuses even as they failed to see patients in a timely manner.

The VA already announced that it is doing away with the 14-day waiting goal after an audit highlighted the perverse incentives it caused. The reversal obviously won't undo the huge damage that's already been done to patients and the VA's reputation, but it could prevent similar nefarious schemes in the future.

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