WASHINGTON — An overwhelming number of Veterans of Foreign Wars members prefer fixing Veterans Affairs medical services to establishing a new private-care based health system for them, according to a new survey released this week by the group.

The poll, which collected responses from nearly 11,000 veterans last fall, also found significant improvements in VA care in recent years.

More than two-third of respondents said they were satisfied with their experience at VA facilities. Nearly 60 percent of the veterans said they have seen better service and access, or described their local facility as already being "high performing."

VFW officials said the results show that "VA is on the right track," but also warned that VA is still far from a perfect system.

"Respondents indicated that VA still has a lot of work ahead in order to fully restore the trust of those it was created to serve," the report stated. "Nearly 40 percent of veterans reported that that their local VA medical facilities need improvements.

"When asked what needs to improve, access was the principal concern with veterans indicating VA needs to hire more doctors, decrease wait times and travel for appointments, and streamline procedures and system. Veterans also indicated that VA needs to improve its phone systems to make them more user-friendly."

The report comes as President Trump looks for ways to overhaul VA services, to fulfill campaign promises of reforming the system to make it more welcoming and accessible to veterans.

On numerous occasions he has described VA as broken and deeply flawed, and suggested that the long-term solution for the department may be privatization of some services.

Lawmakers are debating whether to renew and expand the department’s controversial Choice Card program later this year, a move which would allow veterans to continue to seek health care services outside the VA system but at the government’s expense.

But VFW officials say plans to shift a majority of funding and resources outside the VA would be unpopular among their members. In the survey, 92 percent said they want to see VA "fix deficiencies" in the health care system rather than look to other private-sector alternatives.

"Very few respondents believe veterans should be given a universal health care card or believe the VA health care system should be dismantled by creating a subsidy-based private health insurance for veterans, shutdown completely and outsourced to the private sector, or limited to only serving service-connected conditions," the report stated.

Members of both parties in Congress have repeatedly promised in recent months not to fully privatize VA health services, but have advocated for more partnerships with local hospitals and research centers to expand access to veterans.

VFW officials said they see they clear message from their survey as "the preferred method to achieve (the best care for veterans) is to hire more VA doctors, hold wrongdoers accountable, improve customer service, and make VA’s programs and systems more user-friendly."

The survey results are available on the VFW’s web site.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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