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Sen. Kirk Letter Reveals Hines VA Paid $16.6 Million In Bonuses

Hines director issues memo that may be an admission of manipulated wait times

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Sen. Mark Kirk demands answers from Department of Veterans Affairs officials. NBC 5's Dick Johnson reports.

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Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk sent a letter to the acting inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs Wednesday that shows millions of dollars in paid bonuses to suburban Hines VA Hospital staff, and a possible admission that wait times were manipulated.

VA medical centers around the country are under scrutiny over allegations of long wait times, substandard care and falsified records.

The letter, sent to Richard J. Griffin, shows that $16.6 million in bonuses were award at the Maywood hospital since 2011.

Kirk wonders whether the bonuses were related to "expedited scheduling and treatment incentive programs," and whether the bonuses led to a culture of "manipulating wait times in order to fill bonus criteria."

Kirk's letter also references an internal Hines VA memo from May 8, 2014 from director Joan Ricard stating, "Over the years, with the complexity of the scheduling process and the pressure to improve reported results, there have been instances across the VA where staff has taken steps to make wait times look better."

Ricard's memo encouraged the staff to "follow the recommended scheduling practices closely to ensure our reported wait times accurately reflect the actual experience of patients."

Kirk wrote that he's concerned the memo "admits to the practice of manipulating wait times."

The VA allegations first came to light at a Phoenix hospital, where up to 40 veterans may have died before receiving care. That facility's director, Sharon Helman, came from Hines. She is currently on leave.

Kirk will introduce a bill Thursday that will end all VA hospital bonuses.

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