GAO Audit Says VA Gives Disciplined Workers Performance Bonuses

1:35 PM, Aug 30, 2013   |    comments
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GREENSBORO, NC -- It's enough to make your heart skip a beat.

  • A Veteran Affairs surgeon walks out of the OR - leaving residents in training to continue the operation alone. Yet that doctor still earns more than $11,000 in performance pay.
  • A professional standards board finds a radiologist misreads mammograms - they get an $82,000 bonus.
  • And a physician works without a current license for 3 months and still takes home $7,600 dollars in performance pay.

These national examples show up in a Government Accountability Office audit of performance pay. GAO auditors reviewed 25 providers across the country. Five of them - 20 percent - were disciplined for everything from leaving surgery to misreading charts --- and yet still received a performance bonus.

"I feel insulted. I felt hurt. I felt betrayed," Navy veteran Chris Atkinson said. He can't believe Veterans Affairs would reward disciplined workers. "They dropped the ball. They're not doing their job," he said.

The most recent VA data is from 2011. In that year, the audit reveals the VA gave out $150 million in performance pay. 18,500 workers, nearly 80 percent of all VA providers, got bonuses.

The GAO doesn't know how many of those providers were also disciplined. But they are sure inadequate oversight is to blame for payments made to those disciplined providers. And a closer look at the national rules reveals providers can get the bonuses for doing things that have no bearing on improving health care quality for vets. The providers can simply join a work committee or publish an article and get performance pay. 

VA representatives say they'll rewrite the national policy. They want it to be clear that performance pay is for those who improve care. The VA will also let managers consider withholding performance pay because of disciplinary actions. Those changes should be in place by November.

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