INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Outrage is building after an I-Team 8 investigation into Veterans Affairs denying benefits to Hoosier Veterans.
I-Team 8 uncovered the same offices drowning in a backlog of claims are actually getting bonuses for a job well done. The Indianapolis office is ranked one of the worst in the country — among the slowest for awarding benefits to those who fought and served. So why is the director getting almost $8,000 as a bonus for failure? It’s the answer several military families want to know.
As teenagers, brothers Oscar and Charlie Chasteen were drafted into World War II. Oscar was a torpedo man with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific.
“If he had a few more torpedoes, a few more bombs, I wouldn’t be sitting here now, see,” said Oscar, who is 90 years old.
Battling Alzheimer’s, Charlie only remembers the war some days.
“Yeah, I fought in the war. I fought clear to the end of it,” said Charlie.
He carried crinkled pictures in his wallet for more than 50 years. Now the two brothers, with the help of Charlie’s 78-year-old wife, are fighting the VA for pension benefits.
“I take them to their appointments; I take them to the hospital every day. I give them a bath and take care of them,” said Mary Ellen Chasteen.
Mary Ellen says it’s been a long three years.
“Every time I get anything at all, I get a denial,” said Mary Ellen.
While Oscar and Charlie waited for their appeal to be considered, I-Team 8 found a shocking revelation. Although not public record, I-Team 8 discovered on top of his $137,000 salary, Regional Director Michael Stephens got a performance bonus of $7,546 in 2011. He received the bonus despite statistics from the VA showing the Indianapolis office was the third slowest in the country in processing claims at the time. Stephens isn’t alone. The VA handed out millions in bonuses to top officials around the country for over five years.
In Pittsburgh, Penn. five-figure performance bonuses were handed out that year as a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease spread through the VA hospital. In Waco, Texas it was a $53,000 bonus that was handed out. Some working for the VA can’t explain why they even got the bonus.
“The guy that runs it here in Indiana gets bonuses and they get nothing?” asked Mary Ellen.
House Chairman Jeff Miller oversees the VA.
“I think it’s ridiculous that would happen,” said Miller.
Documents obtained by I-Team 8 show when Stephens got that bonus in 2011, the VA Inspector General found major trouble in the Indianapolis office. The IG said the office “lacked effective controls and accuracy in processing some disability claims” and that there were “inaccuracies in processing.” The office did not correctly process 41 percent of claims reviewed.
“The backlog got worse during that year at the Indianapolis regional office,” said Miller.
Records show at the Indianapolis office in January of 2011, 55 percent of the claims were backlogged, meaning older than 125 days. In December 2011 that number jumped to 77 percent.
“Unfortunately what happens with VA is even when you are doing a poor job, you continue to get a bonus,” said Miller.
Chairman Miller wants to stop that. He’s introduced a bill that would ban all VA bonuses for five years. The bill still needs to pass the House and Senate. Miller has also taken the issue to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
“I’ve been very careful not to call for his resignation but I’ll tell you, it doesn’t appear he is being as proactive as he needs to be,” said Miller.
He also thinks President Obama should get involved.
“I have consistently said really the only person who can make a positive difference in a very quick period of time is the President of the United States,” said Miller.
Mary Ellen hopes Oscar and Charlie live to see their pension. I-Team 8 has repeatedly asked to speak to the Director of the Indianapolis Regional VA Office. Each time our request has been denied.
TRACKING THE BACKLOG
The VA posts on their website the progress they’re making in reducing the backlog. Click here to check out the statistics.