Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson last week angrily rejected the idea that bonus money paid to Department of Veterans Affairs officials should be used to fund a veterans' suicide prevention hotline, and said continuing to seek the firing of VA officials and cut their bonuses is "a bunch of crap."
Gibson was speaking in North Carolina last week when he was asked about whether bonus money could be used to "actually having a human being pick up the phone when a veteran calls the suicide crisis line."
But in a video provided by WNCN News in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Gibson argued against it, and said it makes no sense to continue going after VA officials when most of them are doing good work.
"This idea that 'let's fire everybody, let's pull everybody's bonus away,' that's a bunch of crap," Gibson said passionately after showering praise on VA workers. "The fact of the matter is we have 341,000 people, and the vast majority of them work really hard to do the right thing, and that's why we've got veterans that are well served the vast majority of the time.
"Have we got problems? Yes we do. And I own them. From the moment I lowered my right hand taking the oath, I own those problems. And my commitment is that we're going to deal with those problems," he added. "But I'm not going to see people sit there and say that we got 350,000 people that aren't worth a crap. It's wrong."
Sloan then concluded by saying VA bonus money should not be diverted to a suicide hotline, or anywhere else. "So no, the money is not better spent by pulling it and putting it some place else. Next question."
You can view the comments for yourself at the 20:30 mark below:
Gibson's comments drew a sharp complaint from the Concerned Veterans for America.
"It's an outrage that Acting Secretary Gibson appears less concerned about fixing the systemic problems at the VA and more concerned about protecting his employees' bonuses," said Bill Turenne, director of communications for the group. "VA employees are not the ones in danger here; our veterans and their families are."
Sloan's comments were made just weeks after he was picked to fill the job of former Secretary Eric Shinseki. Shinseki was criticized by both parties for failing to move quickly enough to take responsibility for the VA healthcare scandal, and to discipline VA officials who tried to cover up the scandal.
Both the House and Senate have said the VA needs more authority to quickly fire officials involved in the scandal, and have each passed legislation toward that end. The House is expected to approve the Senate version of the bill sometime this week.
Votes in both chambers came after members said it's too difficult to fire anybody at the VA.
"The current system is so calcified in bureaucratic red tape, that it’s easier for someone to get a bonus than it is to be given some type of discipline at the Department of Veterans Affairs," said House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) back in May.