Changes in characteristics of veterans using the VHA health care system between 1996 and 1999
Maciejewski, Matthew L.
Sales, Anne EB
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Background: The Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides a health care safety net to veterans. This study examined changes in characteristics of veterans using the VHA health care system between 1996 and 1999 when VHA implemented major organizational changes to improve access of ambulatory care and to provide care to more veterans. Methods: The study used two cross-sectional samples of the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey (MEPS), a national representative survey, in 1996 and 1999. The 1996 MEPS survey included 1,944 veterans and the 1999 MEPS survey included 1,974 veterans. There were 534 veterans and 740 veterans who used VHA services in 1996 and 1999, respectively. Results: The proportion of veterans using the VHA system increased from 12.4% in 1996 to 14.6% in 1999. In both years, veterans were more likely to use VHA care if they were older, male, less educated, uninsured, unemployed, and in fair or poor health status. Only two variables, marital status and income, were different between the two years. Married veterans were more likely to use VHA care in 1999, but not in 1996. Veterans with higher incomes had greater odds of using VHA care in 1996, but there was no significant association between income and VHA use in 1999. Conclusion: Characteristics of VHA users did not fundamentally change despite the reorganization of VHA health care delivery system and changes in eligibility and enrollment policy. The VHA system maintains its safety net mission while attracting more veterans.