SEAL Vet-Turned Congressman Calls on VA Secretary to Resign Over Bonus Scandal

The VA secretary said his department has recouped about 92 percent of the bonus funds they determined were erroneously awarded.

Retired U.S. Navy SEAL-turned-congressman Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) confronted U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough on Tuesday with calls for his resignation after senior VA executives allegedly raked in millions in “unjustified” bonuses.

In September, the VA revealed it had erroneously awarded millions of dollars in critical skill incentive (CSI) payments to senior executives at its central office.

A subsequent investigation by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded in May, that the department had awarded $10.8 million in CSIs to 182 senior executives in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) at the VA’s central office. The OIG report found some senior VA executives received bonuses as high as $100,000 in these improper CSI awards. The OIG investigation concluded nearly all of these VHA and VBA central office executives lacked adequate justification for the bonuses and that the awards were not consistent with department policy or federal law known as the PACT Act.

Some lawmakers have since called for VA executives to repay the bonuses the OIG said they had unjustifiably received, and for Mr. McDonough to dismiss VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal, Undersecretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs, and Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher.

Mr. Van Orden went a step further during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, calling for Mr. McDonough to resign alongside the other VA officials.

The retired Navy SEAL credited Mr. Elnahal and Mr. McDonough with personally communicating with him to address past problems impacting his constituents. Mr. Van Orden revealed that after his daughter died last year, Mr. McDonough also attended the funeral to pay his respects.

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“That speaks to your character. It does and I respect it tremendously. I’ll never forget that,” Mr. Van Orden said of the funeral interaction. “This is why what I’m gonna say is so incredibly painful to me personally.”

The retired Navy SEAL then proceeded to explain that he had drafted a resignation letter that he hoped Mr. Elnahal would sign and submit. The veteran and lawmaker then offered at the hearing to substitute Mr. McDonough’s name in place of Mr. Elnahal’s in the draft resignation letter he had prepared.

“Mr. Secretary, I’m going to give you the opportunity to do what you just asked to do, to be held accountable,” Mr. Van Orden said. “And I’m going to change this from Dr. Elnahal to Secretary Denis McDonough.”

Mr. Van Orden concluded his speaking time by saying he felt Mr. McDonough is no longer capable of serving in his leadership capacity at the VA. “And that breaks my heart to say that, but I believe that to be true, and I say that with the utmost respect.”

VA Secretary Says He’s Addressing ‘Flaws’ With Bonus Program

Mr. McDonough said, in a prepared statement before the hearing, that he sees the CSI bonus program as an “important tool” for incentivizing VA personnel to gain “mission-critical skills” that are in short supply or high demand. The VA secretary insisted he promptly notified lawmakers and explained the bonus program errors as soon as he became aware of the problem and immediately set about the process of recouping the payments.

The VA secretary said his department has recouped about 92 percent of the bonus funds they determined were erroneously awarded. Of the outstanding bonus funds, Mr. McDonough said some VA officials are still making repayments through a structured payment plan, while others have requested hearings or waivers to dispute whether they should repay their bonuses.

Mr. McDonough admitted “we made serious mistakes” in implementing the CSI bonus program, but still sees the bonuses as a useful tool for ensuring critical skills are met at the department.

“We appreciate VA OIG’s report identifying the flaws in our systems and processes and are working hard to address its recommendations. Moving forward, we will continue to work to ensure that everyone who receives a CSI meets the criteria to do so,” he said.

Mr. McDonough did not immediately respond to Mr. Van Orden’s calls for his resignation on Tuesday.

Moments after Mr. Van Orden spoke, Rep. Keith Self (R-Texas) used his own speaking time to say that he did not necessarily believe the VA secretary should resign. Still, Mr. Self said, “It looks to me like today you should have brought us either the resignation letter or the termination letter” of several VA officials.

NTD News reached out to the VA for further comment about the call for Mr. McDonough’s resignation but did not receive a response by press time.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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