Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- From construction delays and cost overruns to long waiting lists and a critical staff shortage. While all those problems were coming to light, Contact 13 uncovered hundreds of local VA employees getting big bonuses.
Cash for care. Is it enough to get paid a salary or should VA employees get more?
Under the Federal Freedom of Information Act, Contact 13 requested bonus amounts for Southern Nevada VA employees. This year hasn't been tallied yet, so they sent us data from 2011 through 2013.
We crunched the numbers, and the grand total payout was $650,954 in three years.
Should all these extra tax dollars be paid out in bonuses? We brought our list to the VFW to find out what veterans think.
"It all makes me mad," said Jon Fennych, commander at VFW Post 10047. "I could not believe the amount of monies that was spent in the bonus arena and I was appalled."
Our analysis shows the VA was doling out more money to more people each year.
In 2011, it was nearly $193,000 for 135 employees. In 2012, more than $205,000 for 137 people. Last year, 154 employees shared more than $252,000.
That's a 30 percent jump in payouts in three years.
"Why do the bonuses get bigger? Because we keep allocating more money into the fund, but yet they say it's for the VA care. What care? It hasn't changed," said John Bright.
So who's getting the big bucks? In 2012, Bright was the medical center director when the new VA Hospital opened in North Las Vegas. He got the largest single bonus of $15,624. On top of a $173,000 salary.
The VA justifies the award saying, "Mr. Bright received a final rating of outstanding for his performance."
Bonuses were also paid to Chief of Staff Dr. Romanujam Komanduri, who took in $13,000 in three years. Associate Director Maria Andrews got $10,000 in two years.
Our list shows laundry supervisors, engineers and accounting technicians; housekeeping aides, pharmacists and police officers, all getting bonuses ranging from $200 to $5,000 a year.
But it was the VA's top nurse who got the most money over all. Shirley Caldwell-Butts took in a total of $19,500 in three years. Her base pay is $145,000.
No one from the VA would go on camera to talk about the bonuses. They sent this statement:
"VA staff, including Directors, do not take positions working for the VA because of a bonus. The vast majority of our staff work above and beyond what is called for because they are mission driven, they are dedicated to our Veterans and over 40% of our staff are Veterans themselves. Those Veteran Employees and those that earned a performance award understand what it means to serve and they do so each and every day with a high level of integrity. Where the law allows it, Congress funds it and our staff show merit in their duties, we will recognize performance. Not all employees of the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System have earned a bonus."
Jon Fennych wants lawmakers to step in, "Stop it. You can stop it now. You control the purse strings. Stop it."
Current medical center Director Isabel Duff has not received a bonus since coming to Las Vegas. She did get $8,600 last year for work at her previous post in Southern California.
The VA said it "has suspended all senior executive performance awards" for 2014.