EDITORIAL: Overpay at the VA

Secret wait lists, delays in care, shoddy treatment and needless patient deaths. How much bigger can the already-humongous Veterans Affairs mess get?

Way bigger.

According to internal audit documents obtained by the Huffington Post, the jobs of roughly 13,000 administrators, clerks and other VA employees have long been misclassified, resulting in some employees being overpaid for as long as 14 years. The overpayments (not including performance bonuses based on fraud) have misdirected untold millions of dollars that could have been used to hire more doctors and reduce unacceptable — and often deadly — wait times at the agency’s medical centers.

Virtually all of the overpaid employees work or worked for the Veterans Health Administration, the same section of the VA that compiled secret waiting lists. (VA doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are hired and compensated under a separate system and don’t appear to have been overpaid.)

It gets worse.

The VA found out about the overpayments two years ago, but instead of doing something about it, agency officials prematurely squashed a federally required internal review, in order to avoid bad publicity and fallout among employees.

The General Schedule establishes pay grades and rates for federal employees. Even if the discrepancies were fixed and employees were able to keep their higher pay, losing a GS grade could affect their opportunities for promotions and their retirement pay. Oh, what a blow to morale that would have been! Pay no attention to those suffering veterans in need of promised care.

And because nothing was done to fix the problem, hundreds of new positions have been filled at similarly inflated salaries. In fact, the VA is still advertising open, overpaid positions.

But wait — it gets worse.

Even if VA officials wanted to adjust the improper pay grades (they obviously don’t), federal rules won’t allow them to. A senior official with the VA’s Office of Human Resources Management says employee reviews can’t be done overnight, and no corrective action will be taken for at least 15 more months. So employees will continue to be overpaid. And just how much are they being overpaid? Documents show that in just one nine-month period, from September 2013 to May 2014, overpayments totaled $24.4 million, not including benefits.

Despite the overpayments, secret wait lists, shortages in care and needless patient deaths, there are still Democrats in Washington who want us to believe that all of the problems at the VA could be fixed if the agency just had more money. But mounting evidence shows that the agency is beyond fixing —and multiple investigations aren’t even finished.

President Barack Obama’s nominee to clean up the mess, former Procter &Gamble CEO Bob McDonald, was a wise one, but the mess is simply too big for one man to clean up. The lack of accountability within the VA has systematically eroded the system, robbed taxpayers and claimed lives. The time has come to explore radical measures.

Our veterans have traveled all over the globe, risking their lives to protect our freedoms. The least we can do is give them the freedom to find their own care. Privatize the VA and its hospitals now.


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