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US Veterans Who Do and Do Not Utilize Veterans Affairs Health Care Services: Demographic, Military, Medical, and Psychosocial Characteristics

Brienna N. Meffert, BS, BA; Danielle M. Morabito, BA; Danielle A. Sawicki, BA; Catherine Hausman, MS; Steven M. Southwick, MD; Robert H. Pietrzak, PhD; and Adrienne J. Heinz, PhD

Published: January 17, 2019

Article Abstract

Objective: To examine sociodemographic and military characteristics of US veterans who do and do not utilize Veterans Affairs (VA) health care services as their primary source of health care and examine the relationship between VA utilization and medical and psychosocial characteristics.

Methods: Participants were a nationally representative sample of 3,152 military veterans (89.8% male, 83.5% white, 6.0% black, mean age = 62.0 [SD = 13.1] years) who completed a survey in 2011 assessing health care utilization, sociodemographic, military service, medical, and psychosocial characteristics. Receiver operator characteristic analyses and logistic and linear regressions were conducted to provide a comprehensive and multivariate examination of factors associated with VA utilization.

Results: Veterans who used VA services were more likely to be black, younger, female, unmarried, and less educated and to have lower household incomes. They were also more likely to have served longer in the military and in combat. VA users were more likely to screen positive for lifetime psychopathology, endorse current suicidality, and report enduring more traumas. VA users were also more likely to report more medical conditions, endorse a disability, and score lower on measures of functioning. The primary factor differentiating VA users from those that did not use VA services was presence of lifetime psychopathology.

Conclusions: Results provide a comprehensive profile of veterans who do and do not utilize VA services and suggest that veterans who use VA services have a substantially elevated health burden compared to other veterans. Results may help inform outreach and engagement initiatives targeting the unique health care needs of veterans who do and do not utilize VA services.

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