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Challenges and Barriers to Accessing the VA Healthcare System: VA Users vs. non-VA Users

Wittrock SM, Ono SS, Charlton ME, Reisinger HS. Challenges and Barriers to Accessing the VA Healthcare System: VA Users vs. non-VA Users. Poster session presented at: VA Office of Rural Health / Veterans Rural Health Resource Center Eastern Region Winter Rural Consultants Biannual Meeting; 2011 Feb 9; Tampa, FL.


The VISN 23 Needs Assessment, "A Mixed-Method Evaluation of Challenges and Opportunities in the Care of Rural Veterans," provided insight to the challenges and barriers in accessing VA health from the perspectives of rural veterans that use the VA healthcare system and from the perspectives of the providers and clinic staff that care for rural veterans. One of the primary findings from the VISN 23 Needs Assessment was that veterans using the VA healthcare system often lacked knowledge about what benefits they were eligible for and what services were available through the VA. This lack of knowledge frequently delayed veterans in enrolling and accessing VA healthcare and seems to have resulted in an underutilization of VA services by some. While approximately 7.8 million of the 25 million veterans in the U.S. are enrolled in the VHA, it is estimated that are there are about same number of veterans who are eligible for VHA care but are not currently enrolled with the VHA. Non-enrolled veterans could provide critical information about barriers to accessing the system, but they have been difficult to identify and engage. The objective of our project is to better understand the challenges and barriers that may exist for veterans trying to access the VA healthcare system. Specifically, we aim to better understand the way in which veterans receive information about the VHA and VHA eligibility and benefits. County or Regional Veteran Service Officers (VSO) are often the starting point at which veterans attempt to gain access to the VHA system. Due to their position, VSOs come into contact with veterans that are VHA users, those that would like to access the VA healthcare system and those that choose not to use the VA for their healthcare. As such VSOs can provide further understanding into the barriers and challenges for rural veterans that use the VA for healthcare, new insight into the barriers to enrolling in the VHA system for rural veterans, and insight into the factors that affect rural veterans' choice not to use the VA for healthcare. In this project we will conduct semi-structured interviews with approximately 15 Veteran Service Officers (VSO) throughout VISN 23. Our poster will outline lessons learned in the needs assessment process and best practices derived from the process to this point. Additionally, the poster will feature information gathered to date on barriers to accessing the VA healthcare system. The poster will comprise of a "roadmap" needs assessment and follow-up studies and projects.

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