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VA hospitals are outperforming private hospitals, latest Medicare survey shows

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs takes care of about 9 million veterans at 1,255 facilities. It is the nation's largest integrated health care system.
Charles Dharapak
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs takes care of about 9 million veterans at 1,255 facilities. It is the nation's largest integrated health care system.

A nationwide Medicare survey released Wednesday found that veterans rated Veterans Affairs hospitals higher than private health care facilities in all 10 categories of patient satisfaction.

The VA takes care of about 9 million veterans at 1,255 facilities — the nation's largest integrated health care system. Despite many widely publicized scandals, VA health care has been consistently rated as competitive with private care in dozens of peer-reviewed articles.

"I strongly believe that the VA is the best option for veteran care. Study after study shows that quality and patient safety is at least as good if not better than our private sector counterparts," said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA undersecretary for health.

This most recent survey, known as HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), showed that the VA beat out private facilities in all categories surveyed, such as patient satisfaction, hospital cleanliness and communication with nurses and doctors.

"This offers among the first opportunities to directly compare us with our private sector counterparts, and we're really happy with the results but we won't be content until 100% of hospitals are pinging in the right ratings," Elnahal told NPR.

Favorably comparing with the private sector is important for the VA, because Congress has expanded the VA's use of private care as an option when veterans have to wait too long or travel too far for a VA appointment. Private care is much more expensive for the VA.

Republicans in Congress, who generally support greater use of private care, have even accused the VA of obstructing it. Most recently, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Mike Bost wroteto VA Secretary Denis McDonough about what he called his "complete frustration with the Veterans Health Administration's lack of timely action to provide community care to veterans that ... are in dire need of timely care."

"I hope you share my frustration. These roadblocks do not serve veterans well and we must do better," Bost wrote.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.