Survey: Vets Back Trump's Plan for More Private Health Care

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the American Legion National Convention, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati. American Legion photo
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the American Legion National Convention, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati. American Legion photo

About three in four veterans back Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's plan to give them greater access to private health care, a new Military.com reader survey has found.

Of the nearly 11,000 respondents who identified themselves as veterans and likely voters, 74 percent said they support Trump's plan to allow them to use private health care instead of services through the Veterans Affairs Department.

The Republican proposed reforming the department in part by ensuring that "every veteran has the choice to seek care at the VA or at a private service provider of their own choice. Under a Trump Administration, no veteran will die waiting for service."

Marvin Parker, a Vietnam veteran who medically retired from the Army as a staff sergeant, said he supports Trump's proposal after using VA health care for two decades.

"It is hard to get treatment," the former vehicle mechanic wrote in an email to Military.com. "Also in my area the doctors and nurse staff are incompetent and care very little for their patients' care. They're mainly pill pushers. They spend more time looking at a computer screen than trying to diagnose and take care of problems. I would like a choice of doctors and facilities."

Wait-Time Scandal

In 2014, just a few months after CNN reported that at least 40 people died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, President Barack Obama signed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act.

The bill created a new program, called Veterans Choice, designed to let veterans seek care outside of the VA system if they faced a wait time of 30 days or more, lived 40 miles or more from a VA facility, or met other conditions.

RELATED: Trump Leads Race Among Military Spouses, Survey Says

During a forum with his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Trump called for giving veterans greater access to private care if they face waits of several days for appointments at hospitals and clinics run by the VA, which he described as "almost a corrupt enterprise."

"People are … dying waiting to see a doctor," he said. "Under a part of my plan, if they have that long wait, they walk outside, they go to the local doctor. They choose the doctor. They choose the hospital, whether it's public or private. They get themselves better. In many cases, it's a minor procedure or a pill."

Both Trump and Clinton said they would not seek to privatize the VA.

'Out of Reach'

Harold Brenner, 70, a former chief petty officer in the Navy who served as a construction mechanic during Vietnam, said the service at the VA hospital in Reno is "absolutely excellent" but he supports Trump's proposal because the facility is 40 miles away.

"VA clinics are a lot of time out of reach of veterans," he said in a telephone interview with Military.com.

But Brenner, who visits private-care doctors closer to home under his Tricare for Life and Medicare health insurance plans, said the issue was a relatively small one for him this election season.

Registered as an Independent, Brenner said he previously voted for Barack Obama. "I didn't vote for him because he was a Democrat," he said. "I voted for him because I believed in him. But with these two," he added, referring to Trump and Clinton, "oh my goodness, I have no faith in either one of them. … To me, this is a sad state of affairs that this is the best we've got."

Even so, Brenner said he intends to vote for Trump -- and he's not alone.

Three quarters of veterans who responded to the Military.com survey said they plan to cast a ballot for the Republican nominee. That compares to 20 percent of respondents who support Clinton and less than 3 percent who support Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

Election Issues

Like troops serving on active duty or in the National Guard or Reserves, veterans generally feel Trump would do a better job handling both domestic and foreign policy issues, support Trump's plans to boost the size of the military, back President Barack Obama's plans for Afghanistan and to fight ISIS, and oppose Hillary Clinton's calls to create a no-fly zone in Syria, according to the survey.

Veterans, however, ranked terrorism as the single most important issue, followed by veterans issues; the Supreme Court; foreign policy, including U.S. military operations abroad; and the economy.

Veterans issues certainly matter for Martin Joseph Young, 65, a former Army sergeant who served as a UH-1H Huey crew chief during Vietnam. The Coventry, Connecticut, resident has to travel about 30 miles to the nearest VA facility in either Millington or Rocky Hill.

"It's a lot easier for me to go seven miles next to the Windham Hospital than for me to travel to Millington," he said. "Any savings of money or savings of time or savings of convenience is certainly appreciated at this stage and age."

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Brendan_McGarry.

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