Veterans say they're seeing improvements in VA health care, VFW survey shows

Abbie Bennett
October 01, 2019 - 10:56 am

Photo courtesy of IAVA

Veterans say their care at the Department of Veterans Affairs is improving, according to annual survey results released by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

About 74 percent of the nearly 7,000 veterans who took VFW's "Our Care" survey reported seeing improvements at their local VAs, compared to about 64 percent last year. 

A large majority -- 91 percent -- of veterans who took the survey said they recommend VA care to fellow veterans, up from 80 percent in 2018. The survey also showed about 98 percent of its respondents have at least one other health care option, but most are still choosing VA. 

“Veterans turn to VA for high-quality, individualized care, but there is always room for improvement, especially in the areas of access to quality care inside VA medical facilities and outside in the communities,” VFW National Commander William J. "Doc" Schmitz, said in a statement. 

Veterans also reported a positive view of the new MISSION Act, which replaced the CHOICE Act and launched in June, expanding veterans' access to private doctors and civilian emergency rooms. 

Veterans in the survey who said they do not use VA health care reported several reasons why including bad experiences with the VA or being "turned off by a preponderance of bad stories related to delivery of VA care." 

But there are some differences in VA use among different groups of veterans.

  • 70 percent of women veterans use VA care, compared to 82 percent of men
  • 44 percent of women veterans receive mental health care at VA compared to 31 percent of men
  • 26 percent of women veterans sought VA for urgent care compared to 17 percent of men

Veterans in the survey reported being overall satisfied with VA's care and wait times, even though most of them have other health care options.

  • 82 percent of all veterans in the survey reported being "at least somewhat satisfied" with VA health care experiences; 7 percent were dissatisfied.
  • 84 percent said they received care in a "timely manner" while 16 percent said they did not. 
  • 54 percent said they could get a VA appointment within 14 days of their most recent visit.
  • 80 percent said they could get an appointment within 30 days.  

Veterans are responding to MISSION Act-expanded care.

  • Of the nearly 7,000 veterans who responded to the survey, about 2,800 said they were offered the option to receive care paid for by VA but provided by a private doctor.
  • 55 percent said they chose the private, contracted doctor also called "community care" over VA. 
  • 52 percent of veterans who used VA-contacted community care said they were pleased with their experience.
  • 21 percent of veterans who went outside VA for care said VA sent them a bill -- and 38 percent said VA had not paid that bill. 

The VFW survey seems to support the Veterans Health Administration's report to Congress last week on MISSION Act progress. 

Dr. Richard Stone, the executive in charge of VHA, told Congress that initial concerns from veterans, veteran service organizations, VA employees and other advocates that MISSION could lead to "privatization" of VA health care had not happened. 

More than 1 million veterans have looked into private care through MISSION, VHA reported to Congress, but so far veterans are not leaving VA for private care en mass. Stone said VA enrollment actually increased after MISSION launched. 

VFW noted in its survey results that improvements at VA -- including MISSION -- likely contributed to more veterans enrolling and greater satisfaction. Those improvements included: increasing available VA facilities, expanding community care, modernization and more. 

VFW said it was pleased to see that since its report last year, more veterans recommend VA care to other veterans, and said "VA health care is trending in the right direction," crediting VA's "significant innovations" but adding that there is more work to be done. 

"VA has managed to repair its reputation among veterans who utilize VA," the report said. "Unfortunately, this sentiment is not shared by veterans across the board. VFW’s data indicates that veterans who are disconnected from the VA health care system still have negative perceptions of it."  

To read the full survey, click here.

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.