Records show big bonuses for VA execs

by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:

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WASHINGTON —

Despite the scandal engulfing the Atlanta VA Medical Center, Channel 2 Action News has uncovered the VA's top executives have been pocketing large salary bonuses.

Those salaries are being paid with tax money and the tax money of veterans.

Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane obtained records that show top brass throughout the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have scored big bonus checks in recent months, including in Atlanta.

Despite a laundry list of findings, the Atlanta management has botched how it handled some of its high-risk patients that led to patient deaths, suicides, an overdose and a schizophrenic patient found roaming free inside the building.

Records show former Atlanta VA Medical Center Director James Clark pocketed a $13,000 bonus in 2011 and another $17,000 worth of salary bonuses in 2010.

Clark was not mentioned by name, but Atlanta VA management was cited in a scathing report last week by internal investigators with the VA.

The report said mismanagement contributed to ugly episodes inside the veterans medical center in Decatur and at least three patient deaths.

"(The) VA spends millions on bonuses every year and it appears everyone gets one," Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told MacFarlane.

“I have a problem with giving people bonuses for just doing their jobs," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia.

MacFarlane found $2.7 million had been paid out in bonuses for VA top executives in 2011.

Those bonuses were given at roughly the same time period in which the audit said two Atlanta veterans showing suicidal tendencies sought help, got lost in red tape and then killed themselves.

It's also about the same time another person with a history of substance abuse was overlooked and overdosed and died.

The report said a mental health patient managed to roam free in the building for hours and injected testosterone around the same time as well.

The daughter of a former VA mental health patient Walter Vickers told MacFarlane the bonuses are outrageous

"It's not about money. These are people's fathers, mothers and children that need help," Vickers said.

MacFarlane's investigation found Charles Sepich, head of the VA's Southeast Network, was given a $13,000 bonus even before his arrival in Georgia.

A former regional director, Lawrence Biro, received $18,000 in bonuses.

Neither Sepich nor Biro were mentioned by name in the audit, but the Southeast Network was.

MacFarlane is waiting on a response from VA about the bonuses.