Local veteran survey shows sharply different views, experience than what VA says

By SB Anderson

As the nation’s veterans medical care coverage issues rapidly become more and more of a local focus, you may want to consider ways to canvass as many of your local/regional veterans as possible.

One option, albeit a potentially expensive one: an online and phone survey with a sound methodology that will yield scientifically confident results.

That is what one congressman’s office in El Paso did, and the results released this week challenge in some cases the party line from the Veterans Administration. As USA Today recounted on Wednesday:

More than a third of veterans surveyed in the district of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, said they were unable to get mental health care appointments at the VA. Forty-three percent said they put off therapy because of trouble seeing a counselor, and veterans said it took more than three months to be seen on average.

This differed sharply from what the VA reported for El Paso, O’Rourke said. The agency told him that 85% to 100% of veterans were provided mental health appointments within 14 days.

“The best way to determine how the VA is doing is to ask the veterans themselves,” O’Rourke said in a release about the survey his office undertook in May. That’s a light-bulb moment for journalists, as well.

The survey used as its base a list of 19,000 names of veterans within the district. (On the Beat is trying to track down whether those names were obtained as public records, and from whom, or were from a proprietary vendor database. Haven’t heard back from O’Rourke’s office yet). Those names were matched against a vendor’s phone and e-mail list.

The bulk of the surveys were completed online (503) after e-mail contact; a smaller number (189) were taken by telephone. The margin of error for all respondents is believed to be just under four percentage points in either direction.

Highlights of the findings, taken from O’Rourke’s summary report:

  • Nearly 2 in 5 who attempted to schedule a mental healthcare appointment were unable to obtain one.
  • An average of 71 days elapsed between a request for an appointment and seeing a mental health care provider.
  • About 3 in 4 veterans requesting an appointment with a mental health care provider waited more than 14 days to see one.
  • An average of 85 days elapsed between a veteran’s request for a routine care (non-mental health) appointment and seeing a health care provider.
  • About 7 in 10 requesting a non-mental health care appointment waited more than 14 days to see a provider.
  • About 1 in 3 were either very unsatisfied or unsatisfied with quality of non-mental health care at the El Paso VA.