How Did Sharon Helman Earn 33% In Bonuses?

Sharon Helman

Benjamin KrauseIn this picture, Sharon Helman looks about as surprised as I was to learn she pulled in a cool quarter million dollars the last year leading up to the Phoenix scandal.

The bonuses beyond Helman’s base pay were more than 33%, which is a staggeringly generous performance incentive for most employees in any economy, much less a down economy in an agency that is failing its formally declared duties. To avoid direct comparisons, VA redefined its bonuses as “employment incentives” and then failed to bring the change to the attention of Congress when asked about it.

However, The Arizona Republic received documents from VA that confirmed suspicions that Helman received base pay of $170,000 plus another $57,000 in other forms of incentives to bring her total compensation to $237,904 in 2013. These additional forms of compensation are essentially bonuses by the common Investopedia definition – apparently for a job well done. But how and what exactly was that job she did so well at?

According to The Arizona Republic:

The VA has said Helman has a base salary of about $170,000, but records newly obtained by The Arizona Republic under the Freedom of Information Act show her total compensation for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013, was $237,904, higher than the VA previously disclosed.

This is a stunning lie and another example that Congress cannot expect VA to be honest about how much it is paying employees. I have checked various websites to examine base pay of employees and none of them report the kinds of fantastical pay schemes that seem only to be revealed through sleuthy reporting and FOIA requests.

You may recall that in April, CNN uncovered one of the biggest scandals in VA history where employees at the Phoenix VA were caught manipulated wait lists for appointments. The manipulations resulted in numerous veterans dying untimely deaths or being harmed from a lack of timely health care. VA director Sharon Helman was linked to some of the misrepresentations at the center of the scandal as well as whistleblower retaliation.

Once the scandal was exposed, VA auditors revealed the wait list was a nationwide problem where VA scammed veterans out of needed health care. America still does not know the depths to which VA had sunk to defraud taxpayers with artificially high performance numbers for the sake of earning ludicrously high bonuses.

I have promised to bring readers as much information as possible about Sharon Helman until she is held accountable for what transpired in the walls of the Phoenix VA. And that is what I am doing here.

Last Monday, I summarized some of the largest VA lies that have surfaced this summer from VA. I did not include recent revelations that VA director Sharon Helman was paid over $57,000 in employment incentives beyond her base salary of $170,000 in 2013 because I thought it was worth highlighting separately.

Now I have questions on this bit of outrageous behavior:

Did someone in VA executive management truly believe she was doing such a bang up job that VA needed to pay her a bonus greater than 33% of her base pay? If they did, what exactly did they know she was doing to deserve such a payout?

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  2. Amy, you are very right about Ralph Gigiliotti, he needs to be terminated for being a poor manager of the outrageous amount of money that has to be spent to complete the new hospital in the Denver area. Look at what he got for a bonus for doing a poor job. He and his staff have a lot of those funds that should be going to veterans healthcare. He has the director from Montana VA on his staff, and she was removed for doing such a poor job of managing the VA in area. Another plus for the VA, don’t fire anyone, just move them so they can do a poor job at another facility. This is what they did with Sharon Helman, just moved her around until her deeds finally caught up with her.

  3. The new leader for the VA should clean house with all of these so-called managers who have lied to congress and veterans. The new VA Leader should get rid of Sharon Helman. The VA has the money to help our veterans however, it is not paying it out to the veterans. Instead it is paying itself with high salaries and bonuses. Meanwhile, like Benjamin has said all along, these “Gatekeepers” are doing there best to give veterans the minimal of their entitlements.

  4. This is just another example of what we all know is pandemic in the VA. The VA is a bureaucracy in the worst sense of the word, and the primary goal of any bureaucracy is self-perpetuation.

    Bear in mind that this is a zero-sum game. Every dollar these bureaucrats can screw veterans out of, they can use to line their own pockets. They want to deny or low-ball our claims because they, ostensibly, want to be responsible stewards of taxpayer funds. Of course, none of the money left in the VA budget at the end of the fiscal year will EVER be returned to the taxpayers, so, hey, let’s just reward “a job well-done.”

    What I would find illuminating would be to have access to the criteria the VA uses for awarding bonuses. The smart money says theyh’re all based on how well its employees are meeting financial objectives. Service levels, accuracy & timeliness of claims processing, quality of care — they can all be damned. If you can keep a 100% veteran at 70%, this is more a feather in a VA employee’s cap than getting a veteran a lifesaving procedure.

    1. I got a Call from an Email I sent to Congressman Randy Neugebauer (TX) A Rep. that handles Veterans Suggested I not rely on the V.A. to get help As I am wheelchair bound and live alone, I could use some help to maybe clean my house or mow my lawn, Because I can`t spend any money on things like that and still eat.
      She Suggested, As Sense I “Do” still have my hands and can speak, That I get off Social Security Disability, And Get a job in Tele-Marketing, or a call center. We don`t have that here in town, So I could drive 50 miles one way to make 8.00 an Hr.
      I wrote the Email asking the status of HR 4810. Veterans Access to care act, Because I have to (Be driven, I cant use my legs) 400 miles to See my Neurologist/ Nuro surgeon . In the Ok. City V.A..from Texas. because the nearest V.A. Clinic is 100+ Miles round trip and they are connected to Ok City.V.A. hosp.
      She asked with a Giggle, “Why did`nt you move to right next door to the V.A. Hospital, In Ok City? I live here rather than rent and my Beautiful home cost me 300.00 a month counting Ins. to pay for. (Because it is so Rural) it`s all i can pay for. You should see it! It`s Really GREAT!! (I`m being Facishious) BUT, I “am” Blessed by the grace of God, I`m out of the rain.
      I have a claim in for Aid and Attendance.
      She said” Aid & Att. is based on income, And it is pretty low” I asked is it below 12,000 dollars a year? She said “Probably! I asked “Who comes up with these numbers?” She did`nt respond.
      This is the Mind set of “These people” that hear Veterans “Begging” For a few bucks a month. But, We send Billions to countries that hate our guts and Burn our flag. And I`M Being made to look like a Vagabond with a tin cup.
      I can kill my neighbor and Get the finest Healthcare Available AND GET MY TEETH FIXED in Prison. The Promise The Army failed on as a (Selling point) to Joining during Vietnam. FREE HEALTH & DENTAL FOR LIFE! They don`t mention, “IF” You survive Combat”. Then it went to a matter of Income, and your ability to pay. I did MY Part, Then they changed the rules.
      It`s like ol “King” of “Platoon” when he says “The poor is always being screwed over by the rich, Always have Always will”
      He was right. So, Suck it up “TROOP”, It`s egg sandwiches from here on out. If you`re lucky.

      1. It was said during a hearing, by The Veterans Affairs Committee, That Helman Received these Bonuses thru an “Administrative Error” When the V.A. Pension Mgt Folks found they “Overpaid me $16.00 (Sixteen Dollars) I received a “Packet” on how to (The option to pay by Debit Card or Have them Screw my monthly payments up for a year or two, By collecting this from my Pension Payments) in order to Promptly re-pay this Overpayment, To see the V.A. gets their money back.
        Does this “Error” of an overpayment to Helman, Require the V.A. be paid back as it was an overpayment, “IF”it was an error?
        OR, Does she get to keep it.(Against the Law) Because She is “Better” than “I” the lowly Veteran? or is “And Justice for All” Just a “punch line” to a “Old” Joke?
        While her Case is under review, She has no obligation to repay the “Performance award” As they don`t use the word “Bonus”.
        What if she “Spends it? Does she get off Scott free, or Should she go to Jail, To pay her Debt to Society?

  5. Here agin. Portrait of a snake. People have told me she looks like a “witch”. People like her (Directors and levels of managers and dept. heads)haven’t the foggiest idea of the real problems that decay each and every facility and branch of any part of the VA. They would never,ever know unless they used the Healthcare facilities themselves. They are busy with things like “parking lots” and other “administrative” functions that have no bearing on how veterans are actually treated when they are there for medical appointments. The whole VA thing is run like a bad clinic you take your chances on rather than somewhere you go to for results and good direction on your medical concerns. The employees are not trained, they don’t know past their nose on anything to do to make you feel comforatable you are getting one modicum of quality care, they can’t schedule their way out of a paper bag, they don’t understand how to prioritize you should your needs be more urgent than the other persons, and on and on… for pages. They do everything as if you are some “unit”, and if you break, well, too bad. These administrators exist to keep the building open. Everybody that works there knows how to work around them, and has been getting away with shoving you off to Kokommo for a thousand years while the directors know but don’t do anything but praise their facility on eptness. This person , Susan, is typical. Replacements will be just as bad. McDonald or anyone else will never make a dent. Pasted below is a 2 year old PR blurb (written by VA of course) to make you feel like your in good hands:

    PVAHCS Welcomes New Health Care System Director Ms. Sharon Helman
    Veterans Health Administration sent this bulletin at 03/04/2012 10:16 AM EST

    by Paula L. Pedene APR

    PVAHCS Public Affairs Officer

    When a Veteran asked Ms. Helman what she was doing for herself, she replied, “I’m a mother of five, wife to a disabled Veteran and they keep me busy.” But the Veteran persisted, “No, I didn’t ask you what you were doing for them, I asked you what you were doing for you.”

    That question made her think and she took it to heart. What was she doing for herself? After all as a hospital director, mother and wife, what time was left? So it was after that game of hoops where a disabled Veteran in a wheelchair could beat her, she started doing something that would help her improve her personal health. She decided to take up running and she’s never looked back.

    “I started out with just one mile, and then I worked up to a few and then I thought, I wonder if I could do a marathon? She did and she’s been competing in marathons ever since. Her most recent 26.2 mile run was as entry #261 in the PF Chang Rock and Roll Marathon. She says that running gives her time to think, clear her head and it allows her to enjoy some of her favorite treats like Snickers and Diet Coke.

    Her five kids, Serena, Courtney, Austin, Larissah and Kiersten have dubbed her “Marathon Mom” and they celebrate with her each time she completes a race and brings home her medal. She says, she’s a slow runner and tends to end up in the back 40 of a race field, but that’s OK because for her it’s about completing the race and doing something for herself to keep her promise to a Veteran.

    She may be a slow and steady runner, but when you look at her VA career the slow and steady ends. She’s been on a fast track for more than 20 years. She entered the system in June 1990 as a GS-4 Program Specialist. She admired her director Gary Rossio at the VA San Diego Health Care System and decided then, that would be the job to shoot for. She pursued her college degree and then her masters while raising her children. Then she landed her first VA leadership role in Roseburg, Ore. as Associate Director in March 2005. From there, she worked her way up from lower complexity level hospitals to one of the most complex VA hospitals in the country, the Hines VA Hospital in Chicago.

    At Hines her responsibilities were about as huge as the campus, which spans 142 acres. She was in charge of the medical center, the blind rehab center, the spinal cord injury center, and other VA support services. In just two short years, she took the Hines facility from a deficit of $14 million to a balanced budget and along the way improved both patient and staff satisfaction scores through her empowering leadership style.

    “Veterans are why we are here. I live and breathe this mission. Each day, I renew my promise to take care of our Veterans and to give them the best care we can.”

    The cold weather and the high cost of living had her take a leap for the job as director at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. She is the first female director since PVAHCS opened its doors in 1951 and she is one of 44 female directors nationwide.

    Her first day on the job at Phoenix (Feb. 27) she held two meetings with supervisors to share her leadership vision for the future. “I base my decisions on three things, first is it good for the Veteran, second is it good for the staff and third is it good for the family-mine and our VA family. If we can answer yes, then I know that this is the best thing we can be doing.”

    Her second day on the job (Feb. 28) she held three meetings with more than 500 attendees. First she acknowledged the VA employees who were Veterans and thanked them for their service. Then she reminded everyone that it is “By the grace of God that our Veterans came back after their service to our country. Since they were willing to take a bullet for us, for our freedom, it is now our duty to give them the best care we can.”

    She also shared other beliefs…

    “This is about how we care for our Veterans like we care for our own family.”

    “I am your team; we are all in this together.”

    “What I expect of you, I expect of myself.”

    “I want you all taking risks, because when we do we succeed as a team and if we fail, we fail as a team, since we are all taking these risks together.”

    “There are solutions to every problem.”

    Helman is excited to be a part of the Phoenix VA team, where she knows much work lies ahead.

    “I know there is a parking problem, and I know we’ve had issues with our fee base care, and I know that we’re growing like crazy—we’ve added 20,000 new Veterans to our facility in just the last two years, but I’m excited to see what we can do to work on this together.

    There is much to look forward to. Within her first 90 days she’ll visit at least four community clinics; she’ll conduct a Veterans Service Organization and Congressional Staff briefing; she’ll handle two Congressional visits; she’ll celebrate her son’s 12th birthday; she plans on writing heartwarming weekly messages to share her life with staff; she’ll visit areas of the hospital and meet with patients, and the list goes on.

    Perhaps the best way to summarize her initial Town Hall meetings in setting the tone is to leave us with the thoughts she used in closing at each of her presentations to staff….

    “The Veterans are why we are here. I live and breathe this mission. The Veterans are always the focus.”

    •Town Hall Meeting Feb 28

    1. i HAVE COME to bring you life and more abundantly i will squash all this all this non- sense like AUGUSTUS.

  6. The VA has no level of shame. She makes more than eight 100 percent disabled veterans who put their butt on the line for their country. She is like most of the VA. They talk about helping veterans while helping themselves to the money.


  8. I am 67 years old, I served in the US Army 1967-75. I have never yet seen the VA tell the truth about ANYTHING that might reflect badly on their own employees or organization. The Mafia has more of a moral compass than the VA.

      1. I always find it interesting when VA employees like Deanne critique Ron diminishing his credibility by merely saying “he has an axe to grind” without asking the bigger question. Is Ron’s critique true?

        Are you really DeAnne Seekins, Director of Durham VAMC?

      2. I think that Mrs. Seekins should have have asked Ron a Veteran I who has placed his life on the line and serve his country so that she and many other non-veterans working as Director’s or Associate Directors at VAMC’s treating our veterans with disrespect. Mrs. Seekins probably are not aware that some of her employees are disrespectful towards veterans who visit her VAMC Durham.

  9. @ JS (see below), you are posting from the St. Petersburg VA: while at work. You immediately lose points for defending a woman and an agency that has deceived so many Americans while working for that same agency. And, now you have the audacity to cry foul when I report facts??

    That is sad and pathetic, and it is likely a sign that you think like many other VA employees – that the wait list scandals were a mere hick-up in the road and anyone who highlights VA employee arrogance and illegal behavior is merely “fanning the flames.”

    As to your point, which is baseless, I specifically cite where the information came from and the exact quote for readers. Investopedia defines bonus as “Additional compensation given to an employee above his/her normal wage”. I am unclear as to what your beef is here with this definition – “bonus” is an easy way to summarize the compensation she received beyond base pay.

    Helman received over $57,000 beyond her base pay in total compensation. I know VA in its deceitful silver-tongued way has redefined the separate categories by which it defines that $57k. Certain very large veteran service organizations did the same thing when we found many of their senior execs were receiving total compensation over $300,000 in a given year.

    However, for lay people who are honest and hard working, they would conclude that the monies she received beyond her salary were various forms of bonuses even though VA calls them different things to evade oversight.

  10. Ok Ben lets make it clear though. I don’t for a second think she earned any of that pay. However what the VA first reported was correct her salary is $170,000. The $57,000 included the governments share of health insurance premiums (which all federal employees receive if the choose), the moving allowance she received when she took the job (as all SES employees in the federal government receive), retirement/401K contributions (as every federal employee receives), and the $9400 performance bonus. That is hardly lying by the VA, and a little ignorant on your part to suggest that it is. Quit trying to fan the flames and sparking further outrage based off of your half truth accusations. You can do better than that and there are plenty of other things wrong with the VA that can be written about without stretching the truth or leaving out key facts.

    1. Hey, JS, Compensation is Compensation. That means CASH in Sharon Helman’s bank account for insurance premiums (surely she wouldn’t get care at her own VA); moving expenses, which are surely inflated way over actual out of pocket costs; and 401K’s are also CASH payments — ALL of this at taxpayer expense while she killed veterans who needed are. Congress asked VA executives what Helman’s total compensation was; not just her base salary.

      Take time to watch (and listen very closely) the House VA committee hearings before you go shooting your mouth off with half-truths defending VA criminals. They all lied. Not one of them told the truth.

      Fan the flames of outrage with half-truths? You haven’t seen anything yet. We have more stuff we have confirmed and are researching further that will make Phoenix look like minor misdemeanors instead of serious felony offenses. As Rep. Miller said, “my committee now has confirmed information that will make Phoenix look like kindergarten stuff.” Look up that quote to CNN. All that will come out when the August recess ends and the hearings begin again.

      There is nothing that justifies ANY VA administrator, manager or director being paid $170,000. There is nothing in the private sector that equals compensation given to such VA employees. Gina Farrisee, VACO’s Human Resources undersecretary, fed the HVAC the big bull line that such pay was needed to keep VA top-earners from “leaving to the private sector.” And any VA employee who could get more in private sector pay would be fool not to take that betterment. The fact is, VA executive staff don’t have a fat rat’s chance of getting hired into the private sector — and very, very few ever have. The VA’s poor healthcare services have been known now for Decades. The “exodus factor” for increased VA pay is just another huge lie. I have talked to medical care executives who said they would never so much as even “think” of hiring VA executives and managers.

      The VA Central Office (VACO) staff in DC went from 800 in the late 1990s to over 11,000 in 2012 (a 1100%+ increase) — with no corresponding increase or improvement in services or benefits to veterans. The ONLY ones who benefitted were the VACO staffers, and all the bloated VISN and VAMC “leadership” staff. The only leadership occurring at VA is that kind that “leads” veterans to untimely DEATHS, and serious, permanent complications of their existing medical and disability issues. That is undeniable and irrefutable on the facts already proven.

      The VA is an undeniable criminal fraud operation that masquerades as a benevolent healthcare and disability benefit system. The Fraud committed by all these VA employees would land any veteran who did the same into federal prison.

      1. Let me educate you a little on compensation. First federal employees across the board do not receive cash in their bank accounts for insurance premiums. The average federal employee pays out monthly $250-400 per month if they choose to have insurance. The government like most companies in the world supplement insurance policies but no money at any time is provided to the employee. Second most moving services are contracted out to a moving company by the agency with no cash being paid directly to the employee for said moving services. Now they do get the per diem rates usually in the $140-150 range per day and oh yes the .19 cents per mile if they drive their cars. Could it be inflated I guess it could but travel orders list exactly how much is allowed to be reimbused. Third stay with me here, I guess you could consider 401K matching contributions as cash payments but they are locked in that 401k until either the employee retires, dies, or what ever legal reason there is to withdrawl that money at least after they are vested anyways. The 401K (TSP) thing was all designed to begin with to save on retirement costs to the government, so you have to take that up with congress for that one. Lastly I in no way defend the VA, I get my care there on occasion for service connected stuff and it sucks luckily I have Tricare to fall back on primariliy. But to say that this additional $57,000 is an employment incentive or 33% bonus is a little deceiving to say the least. My whole point is there is enough stuff out there like you say to show the VA sucks and is a corrupt agency without stretching the truth with this crap. I hate the VA and we all know she was a POS, did she deserve to be paid that much heck no.

      2. Mr. Kelley errs in his assessment of VA employees being unable to obtain employment outside the VA. All one has to do is to look at the Board of Directors for Wounded Warriors Project (WWP) to see many from VACO have moved on and found comfortable digs there gouging a gullible public (and Vets) out of untold sums to line their avaricious pockets with. Here’s a link to the article and the IRS 990 that exposes their perfidy.

      1. @asknod for reply. This is what I said: “I have talked to MEDICAL CARE executives who said they would never so much as even “think” of hiring VA executives and managers.” I challenge anyone to show me where any significant numbers of VA medical executive staff left VA for parallel jobs in the private medical community. They know the private sector healthcare entities view them with utter disdain and contempt and know what incompetent bums they are. There’s no real parallel between the way the VA operates and the private sector healthcare entities operate. In the latter, you have to be a tried and true competent executive that can be fired at any time for nonperformance. At VA, you have to be a tried and true Yes-man and incompetent con artist (read: co-conspirator) who has guaranteed job security — no matter how many veterans die or suffer needlessly or due to corrupt practices.

        I am very well aware of the Wounded Warriors scam, and the profiteering creeps who run the entity. Seems like the VACO fraud artists know real well how to go from one government-sanctioned fraud operation to private-sector 501(c)(3) fraud operations. They seem to pop-up like poison mushrooms every month now.

        It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the whole WW entity was dreamed up and put into operation by former VACO employees who realized they could make more money by scamming the gullible American public and veterans communities than by scamming veterans directly at VACO. And what a perfect disguise than to create an entity that alleges to be of help to veteran while doing the same thing to cheat, scam and screw other people and even veterans out of their hard earned monies. Its a pure con game, nothing else.

        At both of these fraud operations, the goal is the same: Sucker as many people as you can to believe that you are trying to do something good for the VA-harmed veterans — while at the same time doing nothing much of value but engaging in unjust enrichment and laughing all the way to the bank. But their day of judgment is fast approaching before Almighty God Himself. And there’s Merit Systems Protection Board in Heaven, rest assured.

        I can never figure out how the Disabled Americans Veterans “National Foundation” manages to scam over $60 million annually from donors and pay out less than $2 million to veterans in the form of junk “gifts” and donations like cheap candy — and escape Congressional inquiry or prosecution. (Oh, jeeezz, I forgot. They make reelection campaign contributions to members of Congress and even certain the members of the House and Senate VA committees. (They do it through PACs to hide their bribes)).

        Don’t believe it? Then do some research and see who sits on the DAVNF board and executive staff and then trace them back to the reports on the Federal Election Commission records showing who gave how much and to whom in Congress. You will be very unpleasantly surprised — and shocked.

  11. Did she really not know she made that much? $57,000 is a salary (or two) all by itself for most disabled vets – we could have lived very comfortable on just that bonus for a year! But the VA will defend their statement because they said her BASE salary was $170,000, which is true. Their lie was just an omission of the “incentive” pay. It’s a common way government at all levels distorts what the top tier makes when reporting to their public. I’ve seen it at the local level, even. That is why “pay for performance” is such a big buzz word in government agencies. It’s just a smoke and mirror approach to pay bonuses subjectively behind a facade of objective “criteria”. I’m sure the VA will produce some performance indicators that she met to obtain that incentive. This is a culture of government agencies in general that will be very, very hard to correct – because once the VA is “fixed”, people will (hopefully) start focusing on executive tier government at all levels – local, county, state. There is too much for all executive level government employees to lose if this is really fixed, in my opinion.

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