The highest paid employee of the Veteran Benefits Administration’s St. Petersburg Regional Office — the nation’s busiest VA claims processing center — has a salary of $152,536, according to information obtained by The Tampa Tribune.
Regional Office Director Kerrie L. Witty was the top wage earner and received no performance award, according to a list of employees earning $100,000 or more.
The office, where nearly 20,000 claims have been waiting 125 days or more to be processed — has been the subject of scrutiny by the VA Office of Inspector General and Congress in recent months.
So many files on patient claims were stacked in piles that “personnel have encountered difficulties locating files and in moving banks of files in the permanent shelving units due to the volume and weight of the files,” according to an interim report by the VA Office of Inspector General released earlier this year. “During our interviews, (regional office) employees stated that lost and misfiled records in the file room were a major issue.”
Regional office officials addressed the major issues in the report after inspectors found a file room overfilled with records, lost and misfiled records, mishandled mail and a three-week delay in processing evidence mail received from the mail room.
Monday night, a former employee named Javier Soto testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee that he was fired June 30 two days after distributing a scathing report about how claims at the office are handled. Regional office officials declined comment without written approval from Soto, who did not respond to phone calls and an email.
The office has a total of nearly 34,000 claims pending, down from about 36,000 in May and nearly 21,000 appeals pending, an increase of about 500 from May. The number of cases 125 days or older, which are considered backlogged, has dropped by about 1,000 since May and by more than 41 percent since March, 2013.
Witty was one of 22 regional office employees earning $100,000 or more. Of those, 17 earned performance awards. Three employees — Support Services Chief Mercedes Bravo, Loan Guaranty Officer Donny Flores and Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Officer Maria Rodriguez — received $2,500 performance awards, the most given out to those on the list.
Flores is also the regional office’s second-highest paid employee, with a salary of $145,504, according to the records.
Assistant Director Suzanne Nunziata and Veteran Service Center Manager Sandra Smith, each with a salary of $137,846 and performance awards of $2,250 and Loan Guaranty Loan Administration Officer Pedro Acosta, with a salary of $126,949 and performance awards of $2,043 round out the top five earners at the regional office.