Nearly 80 percent of veterans surveyed said they trust the Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver their health care and benefits, a significant jump over past years’ levels according to federal officials.
The level matches the rate VA researchers found one year ago. As recently as 2016, only about 55 percent over veterans surveyed said they had confidence in the department’s operations.
John Boerstler, VA’s chief veterans experience officer, called the improvement since then an encouraging sign for the agency.
“These types of comments are incredibly important to us to know what’s going right and also what’s going wrong, so we can solve those important issues,” he said. “And so we’re continuing to ask all veterans who are enrolled to fill out these surveys when they receive them, because we’re listening.”
The latest responses come from a survey of more than 257,000 veterans nationwide who were asked by VA to rate their recent interactions with VA staff, including initial claim filings, appeals and health care appointments.
VA began focusing on better customer service and more internal assessments following the 2014 wait time scandal which forced the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and caused widespread negative response to the department.
The surveys began during the final year of President Barack Obama’s term in office and continued throughout President Donald Trump’s administration, showing improvement during both.
The responses do not include veterans outside the VA system, and participation in the survey was voluntary. As such, many individuals who are unhappy with VA or untrusting of the department could be self-selecting out of the surveys. The number of those individuals is unknown.
But the data has been collected in the same way each quarter for the last five years, showing a steady improvement over that time.
VA officials have collected more than 6 million surveys from veterans over the last five years, but are making most of that data public for the first time now in an effort to increase transparency into their efforts at reform and improvements.
“As we continue to learn more about different populations that we know we can serve better and make VA a safer, more trustworthy, more respectful place for their care and for their benefits delivery, we’re going to continue to do that,” Boerstler said.
The survey showed some disparity among veterans based on age and gender. Men were more likely to trust VA than women (80 percent to 74 percent). Veterans 50 and older were more trusting of the department (80 percent plus for all age groups) than veterans 49 and younger (75 percent or lower for all age groups).
Differences between races were insignificant. Boerstler said the department is working on additional surveys to dig deeper into potential challenges and differences based on veterans’ ethnicities.
The ongoing surveys — 88 are being circulated among veterans connected to the VA system at the moment — will also be used to troubleshoot initiatives such as future vaccination efforts and new benefits deliveries.
Boerstler noted even with the 79 percent trust level, the negative side of the survey still translates into tens of thousands of veterans with issues that the department needs to improve.
“[Veterans] can contact their patient advocate’s office … and when a veteran leaves a compliment or concern or recommendation, we do follow up and address that,” he said. “We are not only learning and adjusting the delivery of care and benefits based on the feedback, but we do want to make sure they know they are being heard.”
The trust data is available at a new page on the VA web site.
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.