East-central Missouri congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) is introducing legislation that would prohibit pay bonuses for senior VA officials if director positions at VA facilities go unfilled for more than 18 months. His proposal comes out of frustration that the St. Louis VA hospital has been without a permanent director for three years.

Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) Photo courtesy of US House of Representatives

Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO). Photo courtesy of US House of Representatives

“The facility continues to get weak scores within the realm of all of the other VA facilities,” said Luetkemeyer. “It needs a lot of improvement and you need somebody at the helm to direct that improvement and right now it’s not happening.”

Luetkemeyer says 34 other VA facilities in the U.S. do not have a permanent director.

“This isn’t a problem that’s unique to us here in Missouri. It’s across the country. So we have some folks who aren’t doing their job. Yet they continue to give bonuses,” said Luetkemeyer. “We, in the U.S. House, normally eliminate all of those bonuses in our appropriations bills. The Senate winds up somehow putting those back in.”

If the Senate does not include the elimination of those bonuses, Luetkemeyer says his proposal would be “Plan B”.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald has said competing with the private sector makes it difficult to fill those top spots.

“The VA continues to get the budgets that they request basically. I understand that there are some problems with salary schedules, but that goes back to Mr. McDonald. If he can’t get find somebody for $50,000 a year, hire them for $70,000 a year,” said Luetkemeyer. “While that is a concern, it is more difficult for the VA to compete against the private sector, I can talk to the folks at the Columbia VA hospital and they don’t seem to have quite these kind of problems. To say that across the board that this whole problem is basically a pay problem, I would disagree with that.”

The number of VA officials who would be affected by these bonuses is unknown. Lucas West with Luetkemeyer’s office says the legislation is written broadly on purpose so that it can include whoever is involved in the hiring process.