Demands on VHA for Post-Deployment Healthcare Needs of OEF/OIF Veterans will be Overshadowed by the Needs of Older Veterans
There is continuing public concern about the nation's ability to provide medical care for Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This article discusses the implications for the Veterans healthcare system of the demand for healthcare services from OEF/OIF Veterans. Investigators examined reports, testimony, and data that are publicly available through VA, other federal websites, and the healthcare literature. They focused on five critical components that might impact the state of Veterans' health care: 1) numbers of new Veterans, 2) numbers of wounded Veterans, particularly those with severe injuries (e.g., traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury), 3) proportions of new Veterans with mental health problems, 4) changes in Veterans benefits, and 5) changes in new Veterans' use of healthcare services.
Findings show that although the pressing needs of newly discharged Veterans require immediate attention, especially in the area of TBI (traumatic brain injury), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and physical disability services, the demand for immediate post-deployment VA healthcare services by OEF/OIF Veterans will be overshadowed by the demands of aging Korean and Vietnam War Veterans (and, eventually, aging OEF/OIF Veterans), in terms of the number of patients and the average cost of their care. Thus, the major demand on VA healthcare services will be from aging Veterans whose usage and needs for services will be relatively stable and predictable; however, it is the extra cost for OEF/OIF Veterans that is difficult to quantify because of the unknowns (e.g., nature, severity, and number of PTSD and TBI cases). The authors suggest that VA prepare to be flexible in its budgeting decisions and to be able to react rapidly to changing demands. They also recommend that the area of overlap between VA and DoD healthcare services continue to be increased.
Amara J and Hendricks A. Health costs of the Afghan and Iraq Wars: Short- and long-term impacts on U.S. Veterans health care. Defense & Security Analysis September 2009;25(3):285-98.
Dr. Hendricks directs HSR&D's Health Care Financing and Economics (HCFE) group at the VA Boston Healthcare System.