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GOP senators demand firings of senior staff after VA bonus mistakes

A dozen Senate Republicans are demanding the firing of three top Veterans Affairs leaders after $11 million in mistaken bonuses was handed out to senior executives last year, saying the moves are needed to “restore integrity and trust” within the department.

The mounting pressure comes less than two weeks after a VA inspector general report criticized several of the leaders for mistakenly awarding cash incentives to 182 senior employees who were not eligible for the awards. VA Secretary Denis McDonough rescinded the payments last fall after learning about the mistakes.

Department officials have said they are working to recover money from the ineligible employees. But 12 Senate Republicans on Tuesday said that is not enough to repair the public damage they believe the mistake has caused.

“[This incident] has revealed a consistent disregard for statutory requirements and VA policies, resulting in the unjustified distribution of bonuses to executives,” the group wrote in a letter to McDonough. “This blatant misuse of taxpayer funds is not just a breach of public trust but also a disservice to the courageous men and women who have selflessly served our nation.”

Watchdog blasts VA for errors leading to $11M in improper bonuses

The letter — signed by four members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee — calls for the firing of Under Secretary for Health Shereef Elnahal, Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs and Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher.

Both Elnahal and Jacobs were specifically singled out by the inspector general for mistakes ahead of the bonus payouts.

Earlier this month, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., expressed concern that the awarding of the bonuses to ineligible employees appeared to be “a calculated effort by senior VA leadership” but stopped short of calling for resignations. He has promised further investigations into the issue.

In response to the letter, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said officials are working to correct the mistake.

“Secretary McDonough has made clear from the beginning that he takes responsibility for this issue and has confidence in his leadership team,” he said in a statement. “As soon as VA identified this error, we immediately took steps to address it, and we reported the matter to the inspector general for review.

“We commit to veterans that we will learn from this error and fix it, as we have already begun to do.”

The contested bonuses were part of the $117 million Critical Skill Incentive Payments program authorized by Congress two years ago. Money from that fund has been given to more than 13,000 staffers with high-demand skills in an effort to keep them in VA hospitals and benefits offices.

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