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Department of Veterans Affairs criticized for bonuses to doctors

A newly released Government Accountability Office study says that the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded bonuses to most of the doctors and dentists serving at its medical centers, despite lacking reasonable assurances that the added pay was linked to performance.

In 2011, about 80 percent of the Veterans Health Administration’s nearly 22,500 providers received about $150 million in performance pay.

Every medical provider who was eligible for performance pay at four medical centers the GAO visited received bonuses, including five who had actions taken against them related to their clinical performance, the GAO said.

The report says that VA policy does not specify in writing that the purpose of the bonuses is to improve health care and has not reviewed the goals set by medical centers.

“This is irrefutable proof of what we’ve known for quite some time: That in many cases, VA’s performance pay and bonus system has absolutely nothing to do with performance,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who has been critical of bonuses paid by the department.

Miller called on VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to conduct “a top-to-bottom review of VA’s performance appraisal system.”

In its reply to the GAO report, the VA concurred with most of the findings and recommendations. The department said that it will coordinate with the Veterans Health Administration to develop a policy change that will “clearly articulate the purpose of performance pay, which is to ensure and improve the quality of care through the achievement of specific goals and objectives,” according to the GAO report.

“VA has already taken steps to strengthen the process and increase monitoring requirements so that pay and awards are supported by proper documentation of performance and meet established standards,” the department said in a statement.

A task force has reviewed policies and made recommendations on implementing changes to make performance goals uniform across the system, according to the VA response to the report.

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