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VA Benefits Spending Varies Across Calif., U.S., Analysis Finds

Veterans' benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs varies drastically depending on where an individual lives, with $6,890 per veteran being spent in California, according to an analysis conducted by NPR and seven other public radio stations throughout the U.S., WBUR/NPR reports.

Analysis Details, Findings

For the analysis, Lakeshore Public Radio, KUOW, NPR and WBUR looked at data from 3,000 U.S. counties. The analysis found that the amount VA spends on veterans' benefits can vary drastically from state to state and sometimes within a single state. The benefits include:

  • Disability checks;
  • Education;
  • Health care;
  • Life insurance; and
  • Other services.

For example, the analysis found that VA in 2013 spent:

  • The most per veteran in Arkansas and West Virginia, at slightly more than $7,600;
  • The least per veteran in Delaware, Indiana, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, at less than $5,000; and
  • A little more than $6,000 per veteran on average.

The analysis also found wide discrepancies in VA's spending on veterans' health benefits when calculated per patient. For example, the study found that VA spent:

  • Almost $30,000 per patient in San Francisco;
  • Less than $7,000 per patient in Lubbock, Texas;
  • Slightly under $10,000 on average nationally; and
  • Four times the amount per patient in Boston than in Cape Cod, Mass.

Overall, the analysis found that per-veteran spending was higher in areas where more veterans were enrolled in VA health plans.

According to the analysis, there was no apparent pattern to explain the spending disparities and there was no significant association between VA's spending per veteran and the age of veterans, size of states' or areas' veteran populations. The area's income rates also did not seem strongly associated with VA's spending. However, the disparities could be the result of:

  • Benefits costing more in certain areas;
  • Veterans not using all the services to which they are entitled;
  • How sick the veteran population is in an area; and
  • The proximity of VA facilities to veterans in an area.

Ashish Jha, a Harvard School of Public Health researcher who studies VA health care, said, "Our best guess is that a lot of that probably has to do with management and stewarding the public dollar," adding, "Even when you look across VA hospitals, some organizations seem to be a little bit better at managing resources than others" (Lawrence/Bebinger, WBUR/NPR, 1/13).

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