April 20, 2015

Poll: VA access is veterans’ greatest challenge

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Of all the problems faced by Illinois veterans, almost half of the state’s voters -- 46.2 percent -- say getting access to Veterans Administration health care is the greatest challenge they face, according to a recent poll by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Challenges with employment, including unemployment, underemployment, and job placement, were voiced as the greatest issue by 24.9 percent of respondents. Homelessness and housing assistance were seen as the greatest issue by only 3.4 percent, followed by only 0.2 percent concerned with education and training.  Almost one in five (19.6 percent) had no opinion. 

The statewide poll of 1,000 registered voters was conducted Feb. 28 through March 10.  The survey has a margin for error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.  The live-interview survey sample included 30 percent cellphone respondents. 

“These results are concerning because either the health care needs of men and women who have served are not being met, or a better job needs to be done illustrating that these needs are being taken care of,” said Delio Calzolari, a U.S. Navy veteran and associate director of the institute. 

The poll asked an open-ended question: “What is the greatest challenge Illinois veterans face?” 

Over one quarter (26.6 percent) of respondents mentioned Veterans Administration (VA) access or wait times. An additional 15.8 percent answered veterans’ mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder (or syndrome) (PTSD), drug and alcohol abuse or suicide.  Another 3.8 percent specified physical health issues.  

Calzolari said, “We asked an open-ended question to get a bead on perceptions of challenges facing veterans.  From the countless ways people could answer, nearly half of the responses named veterans’ health care issues” as their greatest challenge. 

Voters in urban areas place more emphasis on employment needs than those downstate. 

  • VA access issues are reported the most downstate (the areas outside Chicago and the Chicago suburbs, which include suburban Cook County and the collar counties) where 30 percent of respondents reported VA access as veterans’ greatest challenge.  Combining VA access and health issues raises that percentage to 47.7 percent. Another 20.7 percent perceived employment issues as the greatest challenge.
  • In Chicago, employment issues overtake VA access issues as the top challenge to veterans.  Nearly three in 10 Chicagoans (28.5 percent) perceive employment issues as veterans’ greatest challenge and 24 percent responded VA access.  Again, however, when VA access and other health care issues are combined, that category retakes the top spot with 44 percent of responses.
  • Results in suburban Cook and the collar counties have the same pattern as the city.  Three in 10 (30.2 percent) responded that they perceived employment issues as veterans’ greatest challenge and 25.6 percent responded VA access.

However, when VA access and other health care issues are combined (42 percent) suburban voters, like those in Chicago and downstate, rank health care as the biggest problem. 

“These results reinforce the idea that rural and urban veterans face different problems or at least prioritize them differently,” Calzolari said.  

“Rural veterans do not have the density of services and non-profit organizations that urban areas do.  Lack of public transportation, services, health care professionals, or even attorneys for VA claims appeals in rural areas are obstacles rural vets face that are a smaller challenge to urban vets. 

“If a veteran cannot square away his or her health, the vet is less likely to be able to solve employment or other problems.  If a vet solves the health issue, then the vet is better positioned to work on employment issues and more likely to view the employment issue as the greatest challenge because the health issues are resolved,” Calzolari said. 

The poll also indicates differences in opinion among people with military experience, their nonmilitary immediate family members, and people in nonmilitary households.  Despite these differences, VA access and health care remain the greatest challenges reported by each group. 

  • Over half of veterans or people on active duty, 51 percent, stated VA access and health issues are veterans’ greatest challenges. Similarly, 49.3 percent of immediate family members of veterans or active duty service people answered VA access and health issues are veterans’ greatest challenge.
  • However, only two in five, 40 percent, of people in nonmilitary households name VA access or health care as veterans’ greatest challenge.
  • People in nonmilitary households frequently identify employment issues as veterans’ greatest challenge, at 30.3 percent. Significantly fewer veterans or active duty military (20.6 percent) and their immediate family members (22.7 percent) named employment issues. 

For more information, contact institute Director David Yepsen at 618/453-4003 or Calzolari at 618/453-4001.

Results of the poll are available here.

The Simon Institute Poll interviewed 1,000 registered voters across Illinois. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. This means that if we were to conduct the survey 100 times, in 95 of those instances the results would vary by no more than plus or minus 3 points from the results obtained here. 

Live telephone interviews were conducted by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas. Cellphone interviews accounted for 30 percent of the sample. A Spanish language version of the questionnaire and a Spanish-speaking interviewer were made available. Fieldwork was conducted from Feb. 28 through March 10. No auto-dial or “robo polling” is included.  Customer Research International reports no Illinois political clients. The survey was paid for with non-tax dollars from the institute’s endowment fund. 

Crosstabs for the referenced questions will be on the institute’s poll web page at www.simonpoll.org

Simon Institute polling data are also archived by three academic institutions for use by scholars and the public. The three open source data repositories are: the University of Michigan’s Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (OpenICPSR; http://openicpsr.org/repoEntity/list), the University of North Carolina’s The Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science Dataverse Nework (http://arc.irss.unc.edu/dvn/dv/PSPPI), and the Simon Institute Collection at OpenSIUC (http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/ppi/). 

Note: The “Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Poll,” the “Simon Poll” and the “Southern Illinois Poll” are the copyrighted trademarks of the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University. Use and publication of these polls is encouraged -- but only with credit to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale.