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VA officials defend bonuses despite scandal in Pittsburgh

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Correction appended

The Veterans Affairs Department regional director responsible for the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System, where several veterans died in a preventable infectious disease outbreak, said Sept. 9 he would not return a major award he received from the White House.

Michael Moreland, network director for Veterans Integrated Service Network 4, received the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award and a $62,895 bonus in April, days after the VA office of inspector general reported (.pdf) that the Pittsburgh facility neglected to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. The long-lasting outbreak in 2011 and 2012 killed at least five veterans and sickened many others.

Bonuses for Moreland and other VA officials who oversee the Pittsburgh facility have drawn criticism from members of Congress and the families of the outbreak's victims.

During a field hearing in Pittsburgh, held by the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Moreland defended his award. "The timing of it was very bad, and I understand the families that would look at that and make the connection and be upset about that. I received the award. I'm proud to have received it," he said.

Moreland and others knew about the outbreak as early as July 2011, but the Pittsburgh facility didn't publicly reveal it until November 2012, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The article also says that actions Moreland took may have directly hurt efforts to prevent Legionnaires' disease.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) wrote a letter (.pdf) to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in August asking him to rescind all bonuses that went to leaders of the Pittsburgh VA.

VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel also defended Moreland's award, saying he would still recommend him for it today.

"Mr. Moreland's presidential rank award is based upon a lifetime of service to America's veterans," Petzel said. "I will not ask Mr. Moreland to give this back."

Only 1 percent of senior career employees can receive the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, which comes with a bonus of 35 percent of the recipient's salary.

Correction Sept. 10, 4:40 p.m.: The original version of this article used the spelling "Pittsburg," the name of communities in California, Illinois, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Texas. The city in Pennsylvania is spelled "Pittsburgh." We deeply regret offending the sensibilities of Pittsburghers and greatly appreciate their helpful input regarding this error.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage
- watch the hearing on YouTube

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