WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are closely following the scandal engulfing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, amid allegations that thousands of veterans were denied healthcare because of false record-keeping and long waiting lists at VA facilities nationwide. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they are following the situation "very" or "somewhat closely" in the wake of the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and the department's widening scope of troubles.
The VA situation became known this spring after reports asserted that some veterans died waiting for care, shining a spotlight on fundamental staffing problems across many Veterans Health Administration facilities. Media and political attention grew as the scandal widened, with more revelations emerging about the widespread nature of the problems. Americans are quite aware of the story, yet the 69% who have been following it isn't as high as have followed other news events this century, such as 9/11 (97%), Hurricane Katrina (96%), or the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut (87%). But the level of attention to the VA scandal does exceed the average 60% who report closely following more than 200 major news stories since 1991.
Providing Better Care, Firing All VA Employees Top List of Fixes
As President Barack Obama considers candidates to replace Shinseki and tackle the problems at the VA, Gallup asked Americans, using an open-ended question, how they would fix the VA. No single answer is dominant, but the most common response, mentioned by 16% of Americans, is "provide better care in a more timely manner." Firing all VA employees, cleaning house, and better accountability came next, along with improving administration and supervision of the department.
Although 9% mentioned more funding for the VA, it was not Americans' top solution, suggesting that the public believes there are other remedies to be tried before more money is spent to fix the problem. Congress is currently considering proposals to allow veterans to seek care outside the VA system, something 9% of Americans mentioned as a solution. Three percent of Americans suggest privatizing the entire VA health system.
Americans Do Not Approve of Obama's Handling of Situation
As the situation continues to unfold at the VA, 29% of all Americans say they approve of the way Obama is handling the situation involving veterans at VA hospitals, with 63% disapproving. When asked to rate the president on a variety of issues, more Americans approve of his handling of other issues, including the environment (47%), terrorism (42%), and the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (38%). While approval is not high on any of these matters, the rather low rating of Obama's handling of the VA scandal is significant, especially paired with how closely Americans are following the issue. To date, though, it has not seemed to have had a noticeable effect on his overall job approval rating, which has been fairly steady at 44% even as the controversy has unfolded.
The VA scandal could remain on the minds of Americans for quite some time. With several news reports noting that the alleged inadequate healthcare preceded the Obama administration, it may take years for any potential fix to work, even as Congress is urgently working on legislation to address the issue.
At the moment, a strong majority of Americans are following this matter closely, and Americans give the president low marks for his handling of it. This may have implications for policies and politics in 2014 and beyond.
It is clear that Americans have thoughtful responses as to how to fix the situation. From allowing veterans choice in their healthcare to improving the timeliness of treatment, there are several potential fixes to this imbroglio, some of which members of Congress will likely ponder in the months ahead.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 5-8, 2014, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,027 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.