Politics & Government

Poll finds low opinion of military medical care

WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans believe that wounded troops don't receive high quality medical care in military and Veteran's Administration hospitals, according to a new Harvard School of Public Health poll.

Military families share that view, the poll found, and are slightly more pessimistic than non-military civilians when it comes to rehabilitation and mental health care. A reality check: Those polled didn't think care at major U.S. civilian hospitals was any better.

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications for the Defense Department's military health system, said other recent polls show the same pessimism. But, Kilpatrick added, they "do not respond to the reality of the situation and they certainly do not correspond to what the service members themselves think."

A March 2008 Zogby poll, he said, found that 77 percent of a sample of 435 soldiers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan were satisfied with the military health system.

Veterans' Affairs also defended its record. "For eight years in a row, the American Customer Satisfaction Index has shown that veterans are more satisfied with their health care than the average American. Those who use our system know its quality," the VA said in a statement.

Harvard's poll found that 59 percent of civilians and 64 percent of military families believed troops weren't getting high quality care in military and VA hospitals. On rehab and mental health care, the percentages were 57 and 65, respectively.

Both groups were more upbeat about the quality of front-line care. According to the researchers, favorable publicity about front-line care and unfavorable news stories about military hospitals may help to explain the difference.

Two advocacy groups for veterans offered more mixed appraisals.

Paul Sullivan, director of Veterans for Common Sense, said that VA workers "are trying their best," but that the department had been crushed by the Bush administration.

"The administration has concealed the suicide epidemic, that more than 650,000 veterans wait on average six months to have their disability claims reviewed, and that hundreds of thousands of veterans wait more than a month to see a VA doctor," Sullivan said.

But when it comes to the medical care provided by the VA, the care is above average to excellent, Sullivan said.

David Autry, director of communications of Disabled Americans Veterans had a similar view.

"We know from a lot of studies that the veteran's healthcare system is one of the finest in the world," he said, "even if there is some unevenness in the system."

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Republican John McCain won the Harvard poll, which asked which presidential candidate would do the most for military medical care.

Sullivan said that although the Veterans for Common sense is a non-partisan organization, its answer is different.

"Senator McCain votes in favor of veterans only about 30 percent of the time. In sharp contrast, Senator Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, votes in favor 90 percent of the time," he said.

Harris Interactive, a polling firm, conducted the survey for Harvard's public health school, interviewing 1,007 people by phone between April 30 to May 4. The sampling error was +/- 3.0 percent.

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