The Washington Post

Poll shows mixed response to military health care as scrutiny mounts

Womack Army Medical Center, shown here, is under scrutiny after unexpected patient deaths. (U.S. Army photo)

When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a month ago that he wanted a full review of the Pentagon’s health-care facilities, it was characterized by Pentagon officials as a move to get ahead of any problems similar to the scandals the Department of Veterans Affairs system was experiencing.

“It’s clearly within the context of what he’s watching at the VA,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said at the time. “He wants to know what we don’t know. He doesn’t want to wait for similar allegations to appear with the active military healthcare system.”

The Pentagon already was facing a variety of troubling allegations, however. Hagel’s announcement came as the chief of the main military hospital at Fort Bragg, N.C., Army Col. Steven J. Brewster, was relieved of command and three other hospital administrators were suspended due to a loss of “trust and confidence.” Two patients — a 24-year-old service member and a 29-year-old woman — died there at Womack Army Medical Center within days, and the hospital had just received a bad inspection report.

An investigative report in The New York Times further outlined the problems in the Pentagon’s hospitals over the weekend. The Times reports that from 2011 to 2013, medical personnel recorded 239 unexpected deaths in Pentagon hospitals, but forwarded information on only 100 of them to the Pentagon’s patient-safety center for additional scrutiny.

The reports raise the question: Are veterans happy with the medical care they receive? A poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation examined the issue. A key chart:

The veterans poll, featured extensively in The Post’s “After the Wars” series, used a random sampling of 819 active-duty, reserve, National Guard and retired service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was conducted from Aug. 1, 2013, to Dec. 15, 2013.

The poll shows that the vast majority of veterans believe their physical health care needs are being met at least “somewhat well” — on par with the general public in separate surveys. But while 56 percent of all Americans report that their physical health care needs are being met “very well,” only 41 percent of those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan say they are.

Similarly, a high percentage of both Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and the general public believe their mental health needs are being met at least “somewhat well.” The numbers are more striking when people were asked if their mental health-care needs were being met “very well.” Service members were 18 percentage points less likely to say yes than the overall general public, with a 61 percent to 43 percent difference.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.



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