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2012 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

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2012 National Meeting

1043 — Willingness of National Guard Members to Utilize VA Care Under Enhanced Enrollment

Lee REKinne AJLee PW, and West AN, Veterans Rural Health Resource Center - Eastern Region;

Combat Veterans, including activated members of the National Guard (NG), discharged or released from active military service on or after January 28, 2003, are eligible to enroll in the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system for five years from the date of discharge or release. Veterans are strongly encouraged to apply for enrollment within their enhanced eligibility (EE) period, even if no medical care is currently needed. However, it is unknown how willing NG are to utilize VA services.

Members of the National Guard attending a 60-day Post Deployment Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event were invited to complete a brief anonymous survey. Survey items included self-rated functional, interpersonal, and health problems, intention/willingness to use VA healthcare, rationale for use/non-use of VA services, and demographic information.

A total of 904 surveys were returned. Of those surveyed, 60% are using, or planning to use, VA services. However, 17% are ambivalent about obtaining care from VA and 23% have no intention to receive VA care. Of the respondents that do not plan to receive, or are unsure about, VA care, 19% reported more problems controlling anger since returning home, 14% report worse physical health, and 15% report worse emotional health. Of those who do not intend to seek VA care, over 70% endorse being “healthy-not needing medical care” as the reason.

The results suggest that while a majority of NG are making use of, or are planning to use, VA healthcare services, there remains a sizable group of those who are at least ambivalent, if not decidedly against, utilizing this benefit. Despite saying that they are healthy and currently do not need medical care, many endorse difficulty with both physical and emotional health, specifically controlling anger. NG should be receiving care for these issues which may increase or worsen over time. The opportunity for EE, however, is only available for five years from the date of discharge.

The window of opportunity for EE may be closing for a sizable group of NG in need of care. Many who are unsure, or are not going to take advantage of this benefit, are also indicating that they currently have physical and/or emotional issues that could be addressed by VA care.

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