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GOP lawmaker says bonus money drove VA healthcare scandal

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: U.S. House of Representatives Victims' Rights Caucus Chairman Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) talks about the anti-human trafficking legislation his is sponsoring outside the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Poe is leading a group of bipartisan lawmakers urging their colleagues to vote for The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and The Human Trafficking Fraud Enforcement Act of 2014. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said Wednesday that basic greed drove Department of Veterans Affairs officials to lie about long wait times at VA health clinics, since telling these lies meant huge cash bonuses for these officials.

"Secret waiting lists, hidden agendas, all driven by the greed of those at the highest level at the VA," Poe said on the House floor Wednesday.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) said Wednesday that VA officials had an incentive to lie about VA healthcare wait times — money. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"Why greed, why cook the books? Because if wait times are reported low, VA officials receive bonuses."

The VA has admitted that some of its employees manipulated records to make it appear as if veterans were waiting 30 days at the most for healthcare appointments. But Poe cited a Monday report from the Daily Beast that featured a whistleblower in Texas who said the scandal was directed by higher-up officials.

This whistleblower also said wait time data accounted for half of the bonuses awards for executive VA employees, and said this is a "powerful motivator" for senior officials to lie.

"If VA directors report long delays, they won't stay a director very long, and they certainly won't get promoted," the whistleblower says in the story. "No one's getting rewarded for honesty. They pretty much have to lie, if they don't they don't go anywhere."

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee says cash bonuses for some VA officials reached as high as $63,000.

Poe reiterated the call others have made for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down, but said senior officials who lied about healthcare wait times should be charged with crimes.

"Those money-hungry executives at the VA who engaged in secret illegal activity that has resulted in veterans dying should be treated for what they are: criminals," he said. "Put those that committed crimes in line for the stockade, and fix the problem."

Last week, the VA said it would take back nearly $10,000 in bonuses given to the director of the Phoenix VA health system, where problems were first reported. The VA said that bonus was given out "due to an administrative error."

That director, Sharon Helman, has also been put on administrative leave.

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