This article is part of a weeklong series analyzing the veteran experience in the United States, especially how returning veterans transition from the military to civilian life.
PRINCETON, NJ -- Amid reports of long delays and inadequate medical care for U.S. military veterans at Veterans Affairs (VA) health centers, a new Gallup poll of U.S. veterans finds the majority, 55%, saying it is either "very" or "somewhat difficult" to access medical care through the VA. Thirty percent say it is "very" or "somewhat easy" to do so.
The results are based on a June 16-20 poll of 1,268 U.S. military veterans who had participated in a prior Gallup Daily tracking survey.
The VA came under heavy criticism this spring for its treatment of veterans, most notably for long delays to get medical care. Some veterans died before they could get the treatment they were seeking. The probe of the VA revealed that some VA officials falsified records, with media speculation that it was perhaps due to financial incentives tied to providing timely medical care. The Obama administration, which released a report of its own investigation into the matter on Friday, is set to appoint former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as the new head of the VA.
Fifty-one percent of U.S. veterans say they are following news about the quality of medical care provided at VA hospitals very closely, with an additional 39% saying they are following it somewhat closely. That is a much higher level of attention than the general population reports paying to the story, based on an earlier June 5-8 Gallup poll.
The common perception of most veterans about the difficulty of accessing VA care, many of whom have personally used the VA system, confirms that the department is failing to meet the medical needs of many of those it is designed to serve. At the same time, that is not the belief or experience of all veterans, with three in 10 saying it is easy to get access to medical care through the VA.
Veterans' perceptions of VA medical access seems to be colored by their political leanings. Military veterans who identify politically as Democrats are significantly more likely to say it is easy to get medical care from the VA (40%) than Republican veterans (23%), with independents falling in between (33%). Democrats may perceive conditions as better given that a Democrat is president.
There are not significant regional differences in the perceived ease or difficulty of accessing VA care, suggesting the perceived difficulties are more a system-wide issue than one confined mostly to VA centers in particular parts of the U.S.
Veterans' Confidence in VA Shaken
The poll finds the VA controversy has negatively affected how veterans view the VA. Sixty percent say they are now less confident in the ability of the VA to care for veterans, while 34% say it has not affected their views. Four percent say they are more confident.
Despite the obvious effect on their confidence in the VA, veterans favor an expansive role for the VA in meeting veterans' care over a more limited one. Fifty-six percent say the VA should care for all veterans' medical needs for the duration of their lives, while 38% believe the VA should only care for those medical issues related to the veterans' military service.
Veterans' views on the proper role for the VA are similar among those paying more and those paying less attention to the controversy.
Veterans are probably best positioned to assess how the VA is doing its job in terms of caring for them, and most report that is difficult for those who served in the military to get medical care through the VA. While that is the majority view, a substantial minority of veterans say it is easy to get medical care. It is unclear whether veterans have always believed access to medical care at the VA is difficult to get, or if they are more likely to believe this now in light of the controversy.
The controversy has shaken veterans' confidence in the VA, although not to the point that they favor a more limited role for the VA in meeting veterans' medical needs.
The Obama administration has chosen a new VA chief, and many more top officials in the administration have resigned or are expected to lose their jobs. The controversy certainly means medical care for veterans at VA hospitals will get increased scrutiny from Congress, the media, and the Obama administration, which should lead to improvements in the treatment of veterans. Both the House and Senate have passed bills designed to address delays in care, and the president is expected to sign a reconciled bill into law this year.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted June 16-20, 2014, with a random sample of 1,268 veterans, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of veterans, the margin of sampling error is ±3.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews were conducted using Gallup Daily Tracking Survey Recontact Sample. Gallup Daily Tracking Survey Recontact Sample includes respondents that previously participated in the Gallup Daily Tracking Survey, and agreed to future contact. The sample universe for this study included Gallup Daily Tracking Recontact respondents that previously reported they were veterans.
The Gallup Daily Tracking Survey uses a dual frame design with 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.
Data are weighted by age and gender using targets derived from the Gallup Daily Tracking Surveys for the veteran population.
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.