More than 700,000 Non-Veterans Use VA Health Care System

Thursday, June 19, 2014
Patients waiting at Veterans Center, Phoenix (photo: Mark Henle, AP)

As Congress and policymakers focus on fixing the dysfunctional healthcare system for veterans, non-veterans are outpacing former soldiers among new patients.


It has been well documented how the demand for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) health system has soared following the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. But in recent years, it has been civilians who have flooded into the system at much higher rates. Non-veterans, such as spouses or dependent children of vets, can be eligible for VA care if the veteran had a full permanent service-related disability or died on active duty.


There were 356,333 non-vets using VA healthcare in 2001. Today, that total has nearly doubled to an estimated 708,921. For comparison, 5,908,042 veterans will seek VA care this year.


In 2008, the number of non-vets using VA services went up 7.6%, while the vets’ rate ticked up only 1.2% from the year before. Since then, non-vets enrollment has easily outpaced that of ex-military patients. The gap was largest in fiscal year 2012, when the increase in non-vets seeking care soared by 11.7% while the vets’ rate rose only 1.8% over the year before.


“This type of information has become increasingly useful in the wake of the VA’s record-keeping scandal, as lawmakers draft legislation to help fix the problems and the agency tries to determine whether staffing levels are adequate,” Josh Hicks wrote at The Washington Post. “The numbers could help the VA determine how many patients — and possibly which kind — it should send off for private care.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

The Number of Veterans That Use VA Health Care Services: A Fact Sheet (by Erin Bagalman, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)

How Many Non-Veterans Use the VA Health-Care System? (by Josh Hicks, Washington Post)


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