Phoenix VA scandal: Shinseki rescinds bonus of Phoenix VA director

PHOENIX - Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman's nearly $9,400 bonus for last year has been rescinded.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki exercised his authority Wednesday to rescind Helman's performance award for fiscal year 2013, VA officials in Washington said.

Last year, Helman was awarded a $9,345 bonus in addition to her $169,000 annual salary.

The bonus had been awarded through "an administrative error," a VA spokesman said.

Helman was placed on administrative leave on May 1 amid investigations into extreme wait times and scheduling procedures that allegedly resulted in the deaths of at least 40 veterans.

Federal investigators probing the claims raised by several former VA employees said they have so far not linked any patient deaths in Phoenix to delayed care.  A report is due in August.

Helman told The Associated Press in an interview the day she was put on leave that she was appalled by the notion she would manipulate wait times and put patient lives at risk to collect a bonus. She also said she gave the bonus money to her children to help them out, dismissing the idea she collected the money to enrich herself.

U.S. Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Deb Fischer of Nebraska have introduced legislation to prohibit payment of bonuses to employees at the Veterans Health Administration through next year.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, told the AP recently that "transparency is lacking at the VA" and "unfortunately, bonuses are given out like candy."

"As long as you meet certain metrics, you receive a bonus, and it may very well be that's why this second list was being kept, so that somebody could show progress when there really was no progress," Miller added.

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