The level of trust veterans have in the medical care they receive at the Department of Veterans Affairs has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, averaging nearly 90% for the first time since the department began soliciting feedback in late 2017.
In outpatient surveys taken following appointments for health services, veterans' trust in care increased 5% during the past three years, from an 84.9% satisfaction rate in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 89% through the end of March.
The figures were based on more than four million responses from veterans, according to the VA.
Of those millions of veterans who have responded since 2017, 3.5 million said they "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that they trusted their health care.
In a month by month breakdown of VA patient trust during the pandemic, the trust metric exceeded 90%: As of April 11, 90.1% of veterans who responded gave high marks for trust, according to the VA.
"These improvements are a testament to not only VA's investment in patient experience programs but also the dedication of our employees," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "Even during a pandemic, our VA team has continued its steadfast commitment to delivering the highest quality care for our nation's veterans."
According to the VA, since 2018, more than two-thirds of survey comments from veterans regarding their health care have been positive, 19% have been negative -- "concerns" as the VA refers calls them -- and 13% have included recommendations for improvement.
Results are based on the VA's Veterans Signals patient feedback program. VA officials said they have worked hard to improve the customer experience at VA hospitals and clinics, creating a new training program for employees and adding personnel to facilities who are available for customer assistance at help desks and in hallways.
An independent survey conducted last year showed high satisfaction rates among veterans with their VA health services, with 82% reporting they were at least "somewhat" satisfied with care.
Roughly 7% said they were dissatisfied, and 11% were neutral on their experience.
That survey, conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, found that, among veterans who were able to get care at the VA or through private insurance, 47% said they prefer VA care, while 49% said they prefer care from private providers.
Among veterans who have access only to the VA or Medicare/Medicaid, 67% said they prefer VA care over Medicare. And for veterans who have access to the VA and Tricare, 52% said they prefer Tricare, while 43% said they preferred VA care.
Female veterans were less likely to say they used VA health care than male vets, at 70% versus 82%.
VFW officials said their survey, released last September, indicated that more veterans said they would recommend VA care to their fellow veterans, but it also showed that veterans who are not receiving care through the VA "still have negative perceptions of it."
"VFW believes appropriate quality health care should be promoted throughout VA for all veterans, and VA should want all eligible veterans to have access to health care that improves their health and well-being," VFW analysts wrote.