Metro-East News

Roger That: Scandal-plagued VA awarded $142 million in bonuses last year

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can’t seem to catch a break in the media lately.

USA Today is reporting that the VA doled out more than $142 million in bonuses to executives and employees for performance in 2014 even as scandals over veterans' health care and other issues racked the agency.

Among the recipients were claims processors in a Philadelphia benefits office that investigators dubbed the worst in the country last year. They received $300 to $900 each. Managers in Tomah, Wis., got $1,000 to $4,000, even though they oversaw the over-prescription of opiates to veterans – one of whom died.

The VA also rewarded executives who managed construction of a facility in Denver, a disastrous project years overdue and more than $1 billion over budget. They took home $4,000 to $8,000 each.

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Legislation passed Tuesday by the Senate includes a provision that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it is legal, according to a report from Military.com.

Some veterans groups have pressed Congress for years to allow the drug for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The so-called Veterans Equal Access Amendment would do so and was sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

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Congress approved a historic overhaul of the military retirement system Tuesday, all but ensuring it will become law and the Defense Department will begin the roll out, according to Stars and Stripes.

But troops will not get access to the new 401(k)-style retirement accounts that are the centerpiece of the overhaul until 2018. In the meantime, some key issues such as new programs to educate service members on the tricky world of investing and retention bonuses still need to be worked out, according to the Military Officers Association of America, the country’s largest officer advocacy group.

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The Department of Homeland Security is developing portable devices that can detect nuclear threats, as part of a broader federal effort to invest in wearable technology, according to DefenseOne.

In a recent blog post, Huban Gowadia, director of DHS’ Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, outlined the “Human Portable Tripwire” program, which intends to outfit Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration officers with devices that “passively monitor the environment” and can alert wearers when they detect nuclear or radioactive material.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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