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National Media Coverage of the Veterans Affairs Waitlist Scandal: Effects on Veterans' Distrust of the VA Health Care System.

Jones AL, Fine MJ, Taber PA, Hausmann LRM, Burkitt KH, Stone RA, Zickmund SL. National Media Coverage of the Veterans Affairs Waitlist Scandal: Effects on Veterans' Distrust of the VA Health Care System. Medical care. 2021 Jun 1; 59(Suppl 3):S322-S326.

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BACKGROUND: On April 23, 2014, US media outlets broadcast reports of excessive wait times and "secret" waitlists at some Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, precipitating legislation to increase Veterans' access to private sector health care. OBJECTIVE: The aims were to assess changes in Veterans' distrust in the VA health care system before and after the media coverage and explore sex and racial/ethnic differences in the temporal patterns. METHODS: Veterans completed semistructured interviews on health care satisfaction from June 2013 to January 2015, including a validated scale of health system distrust (range: 1-5). We used linear splines with knots at 90-day intervals to assess changes in distrust before and after April 23, 2014 ("day 0") in linear mixed models. To explore sex and racial/ethnic differences in temporal patterns, we stratified models by sex and tested for interactions of race/ethnicity with time. RESULTS: For women (n = 600), distrust scores (mean = 2.09) increased by 0.45 in days 0-90 (P < 0.01), then decreased by 0.45 in days 90-180 (P < 0.01). Among men (n = 575), distrust scores (mean = 2.05) increased by 0.18 in days 0-90 (P = 0.059). Distrust levels were significantly higher for Black versus White women (time adjusted mean difference = 0.21) and for Black and Hispanic versus White men (differences = 0.26 and 0.18). However, the temporal patterns did not vary by race/ethnicity for women or men (interaction P = 0.85 and 0.21, respectively). CONCLUSIONS: Health system distrust increased in women following media coverage of VA access problems and was higher in Black/Hispanic versus White Veterans at all time periods. Such perceptions could influence Veteran decisions to seek health care in the community rather than VA.

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