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$9.7 million in bonuses paid to VA executives by mistake

The entrance to the Edward P. Boland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)
September 29, 2023

The Department of Veterans Affairs mistakenly awarded $9.7 million in bonuses to senior executives earlier this month, prompting demands from Congress regarding additional oversight for the VA and resulting in a correction by the department.

According to a press release obtained by Military Times, the VA announced last week that it mistakenly made payments to 170 executives at its Washington, D.C., headquarters as part of the PACT Act incentives that are intended to be used for the development of important skills at the department.

The VA has announced that it will rescind the $9.7 million in bonus payments.

After members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees were notified of the $9.7 million payment error, multiple lawmakers wrote a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, blasting the VA for allocating extra money for senior executives instead of filling vacancies in the department.

“VA leadership managing the program clearly did not follow the intended procedures and guardrails that facilities in the field were required to follow,” House and Senate lawmakers wrote. “We expect a much higher level of due diligence, oversight, and planning at this executive level.”

The bipartisan group of lawmakers criticized the VA’s use of the PACT ACT’s hiring and retention program to distribute bonuses to senior executives. They warned the VA, “Congress will pursue additional oversight and more aggressive safeguards on existing and future authorities to ensure this does not happen again.”

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According to Military Times, the PACT Act, which was passed last year, provides the VA with funding to use for hiring or providing incentive play to the department’s employees in positions that are typically difficult to fill.

“The intended purpose of this authority was to hire positions such as human resources specialists who can aid in hiring for other positions, information technology (IT) professionals to help improve and support VA’s IT systems, and police officers and housekeepers who have faced hiring shortages for years and are essential to the day-to-day operation of VA facilities,” lawmakers explained in their letter to the VA.

According to Military Times, VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes explained that the $9.7 million incentive pay error was first uncovered at the beginning of September. He added that the incorrect payments only represented less than 3% of the program’s incentive payments.

According to Mayes, over 97% of the program’s payouts were correctly distributed, totaling about $117 million with 13,165 payments.

“Because of this error, we are canceling all CSI payments made to career senior executives at VA headquarters while we take time to review and strengthen the CSI process,” Hayes said in a statement Friday. “As a part of that effort, we will be instituting additional reviews and stronger controls for all CSIs awarded to career senior executives.”

The VA has requested that the inspector general examine the incorrect payment issue and provide the department with recommendations pertaining to additional oversight measures to be implemented in the future. The department is also working to implement a repayment schedule for the executives who were incorrectly awarded bonuses.

“We deeply apologize to the employees who have been impacted by this error,” Hayes said.