Minnesota VA officials received thousands in bonuses despite misconduct probes


High-ranking officials of the VA in Minnesota who have been under investigation for misconduct and mismanagement received bonus payments worth thousands of dollars in 2014.

Details of $142 million of bonuses paid out by the Department of Veteran Affairs have been released this week, as reported by USA Today, and in Minnesota the highest amount was paid to Kimberly Graves, who is director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) St. Paul regional office.

In September, Graves was the subject of a VA inspector general report which found that she abused her position of authority to engineer her reassignment to Minnesota last October, which brought a "significant decrease in job responsibilities" but saw her retain her $173,949 salary and claim almost $130,000 in moving expenses.

Despite this, Graves received a bonus of $8,694 for her performance in 2014, the figures show.

The Star Tribune reports that Graves was hauled before a congressional panel earlier this month after being subpoenaed to answer the charge she used her government job for personal gain, but took the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination.

Cited St. Cloud chief gets almost $4,000

Also receiving a substantial bonus in 2014 was Dr. Susan Markstrom, chief of staff at the St. Cloud VA, who was last year cited in an internal investigation report, which found mismanagement had less to "mass resignations" of health providers, the St. Cloud Times reports.

She received a $3,900 bonus in 2014.

The newspaper notes that Markstrom and other leaders at the center treated employees with "disrespect," and they were reportedly scared to report their complaints for fear of reprisals.

But in a statement on Tuesday, a St. Cloud VA spokesman said this all occurred in 2013, not last year, and said her bonus was "warranted" as she is an "excellent chief of staff."

Sen. Al Franken told the Star Tribune that he backs bonuses for VA officials, but in the wake of the 2014 he thinks they should be reviewed.

"Obviously this is a recruitment device. If you look at what people get paid outside in private hospitals and health care, this is to try and reward and retain and recruit good people," he said. "So I think we should look at some of these bonuses and if some of them weren’t warranted, they should recoup them."

You can search for bonuses paid to Minnesota VA employees here.

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