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VA noncommittal about review of $63K bonus for retiring regional director Moreland

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By Mike Wereschagin and Adam Smeltz
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Months after the Department of Veterans Affairs promised to review a five-figure bonus given to the top VA official in Pittsburgh, department spokespeople won't say whether they've begun their inquiry — or whether they intend to.

Regional director Michael Moreland's $63,000 bonus, awarded days before the VA Pittsburgh announced a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in November 2012, prompted public outcry and helped lead to a congressional hearing.

Asked on Monday about the status of the VA's investigation of that bonus, a spokesman would say only that Moreland is retiring from a 34-year VA career on Nov. 1.

“This will be our only statement concerning this matter,” regional spokesman David Cowgill said.

That drew a rebuke from Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, who called it “an insult to the families of those who died” in the outbreak.

“VA does not get to decide when this conversation is over. Congress and the American people do,” Miller said. “We simply will not stand by while VA attempts to quietly shuffle Moreland out the back door with his $63,000 bonus in hand.

“It's time for VA to come clean about its review of Moreland's bonus and take any and all steps necessary to recoup the funds.”

As cash troubles plague much of the government, large awards such as Moreland's — he received nearly $16,000 the year before his big bonus — are difficult for veterans to understand, said Ron Conley, director of veterans services for Allegheny County.

“The VA's attitude is that the bonus was an overall job performance (award) for Mr. Moreland, and not just (for) this one incident. I thought it was disgusting,” Conley said. “I just have a hard time with bonuses anyhow, because when people are hired, they're hired to do the best possible job. Bonuses come about because you do extraordinary things.”

The outbreak lasted from February 2011 to November 2012 and sickened at least 21 veterans, five of whom died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moreland's base salary in 2011 was $179,700 a year. His resignation makes him the second VA official in a month to announce plans to step down. Robert Petzel, Veterans Health Administration undersecretary, announced his retirement in late September. Both men faced intense questioning from Congress during a hearing in Pittsburgh on Sept. 9.

VA officials in Washington won't say who will take over for Moreland when he leaves or how they will select a permanent successor.

Mike Wereschagin and Adam Smeltz are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Wereschagin at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com. Reach Smeltz at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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