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The number of veterans that use VA health care services: a fact sheet.

June 3, 2014


It's a simple question--how many veterans use services at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)? It's a question being asked a lot these days, and it is important, baseline information to know when changes are being contemplated (1) to the way in which VA delivers health care to veterans.

In the course of an investigation into allegations (2) that veterans seeking health care services from the VHA experienced long delays in treatment, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an interim report (3) that substantiated the delays. Final determinations by the OIG of the full scope and impact of the problems, including whether delays in treatment resulted in harm to or the death of any veterans, will not be available until the OIG completes its investigation and issues a final report.

The issue of wait times for VA health care is not new (see CRS Insight IN10063, Wait Times for Veterans Health Not New). Approaches to providing timely access to care for veterans enrolled in VA health care have included the use of non-VA care reimbursed by the VA (see CRS Insight IN10074, Getting Health Care Outside the VA). The need to rely on non-VA care in some cases has raised questions about the VA's capacity to provide services to the veteran population now and in the future. Knowing how many veterans there are is essential to answering those questions.

Number of Veterans and VA Health Care Users

Veterans Total Population: Annual estimates of the total population of living veterans (4) are based in part on a U.S. Census Bureau definition of veterans as "men and women who have served (even for a short time), but are not currently serving, on active duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard, or who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II." (5)

VA Enrollees: Eligibility for federal veterans' benefits begins with a statutory definition of a veteran as a "person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable." (6) To receive VA health care, veterans generally must enroll in the system after meeting eligibility requirements (which for most veterans are based on previous military service, presence of service-connected disabilities, and/or other factors). (7)

VA Patients (Veterans): In a given year, not every VA-enrolled veteran receives VA health care services. Some veterans may opt not to seek care during the year, while others may receive care outside the VA system, paying for care using private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, the military health system (TRICARE), or other means. Thus not every VA-enrolled veteran is counted as a VA patient during a given year.

VA Patients (Non-veterans): The VA also provides health care services to certain non-veteran patients, including "active duty military and reserve, spousal collateral, consultations and instruction, CHAMPVA workload, reimbursable workload with affiliates, humanitarian care, and employees receiving occupational immunizations such as Hepatitis A&B and flu vaccinations." (8)

Table 1 provides the total veteran population, VA-enrolled veterans, and VA patients (including both veteran and non-veteran patients) for each year from FY2001 through FY2014. These data allow several observations, including the following:

* The total veteran population has decreased by 17% from FY2001 to FY2014.

* The VA-enrolled veteran population has increased by 78% from FY2001 to FY2014.

* As a proportion of the total veteran population, the VA-enrolled veterans have increased from 20% in FY2001 to 42% in FY2014.

* Since FY2003, 63%-65% of VA enrolled veterans have used VA health care each year. (In FY2001, 76% of enrolled veterans used VA health care, but this is anomalous within the time period. In FY2002 it was 69%.)

* The number of non-veteran VA patients has increased faster than the number of veteran patients; as of FY2014, non-veteran patients represent 11% of all VA patients.

Author Contact Information

Erin Bagalman

Analyst in Health Policy, 7-5345

(1) United States Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Press Release, "Chairman Sanders Lays Out Legislative Action Plan for Veterans," June 1, 2014, outlegislative-action-plan-for-veterans, website accessed June 2, 2014. Senator McCain has indicated he will present an alternative. See Michael C. Bender, "Reid-Backed Veterans Care Plan Draws Repubilcan Alternate," Bloomberg, June 3, 2014,, website accessed June 3, 2014.

(2) CNN, "Shinseki resigns, but will that improve things at VA hospitals?," May 31, 2014, 30/politics/va-hospitals-shinseki/index.html?hpt=hp_inthenews, website accessed June 2, 2014.

(3) Veterans Health Administration, "Interim Report: Review of Patient Wait Times, Scheduling Practices, and Alleged Patient Deaths at the Phoenix Health Care System," May 28, 2014,, website accessed June 2, 2014.

(4) United States Department of Veterans Affairs, National Centers for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, "Veteran Population," website accessed June 2, 2014,

(5) United States Census Bureau, "Definitions and Concepts: Who are veterans?," about/definitions.html, website accessed June 2, 2014.

(6) 38 U.S.C. Section 101(2), %28title:38%20section:101%282%29%20edition:prelim, website accessed June 2, 2014.

(7) CRS Report R42747, Health Care for Veterans: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, by Sidath Viranga Panangala and Erin Bagalman.

(8) Department of Veterans Affairs, "Volume II, Medical Programs and Information Technology Programs, Congressional Submission, FY 2015 Funding and FY 2016 Advance Appropriations," p. VHA-32, budget/docs/summary/Fy2015-VolumeII-MedicalProgramsAndInformationTechnology.pdf#page=34, website accessed June 2, 2014.
Table 1. Veteran Population, VA Enrollees, and VA Patients,

Year      Total Veteran    VA-Enrolled
          Population       Veterans

FY2001    26,092,046       5,124,168
FY2002    25,627,596       6,248,949
FY2003    25,217,342       7,186,643
FY2004    24,862,857       7,419,851
FY2005    24,521,247       7,655,562
FY2006    24,179,183       7,872,438
FY2007    23,816,018       7,833,445
FY2008    23,442,489       7,834,763
FY2009    23,066,965       8,048,560
FY2010    23,031,892       8,343,117
FY2011    22,676,149       8,574,198
FY2012    22,328,279       8,762,548
FY2013    21,972,964       8,926,546
FY2014    21,619,731       9,111,955

Year      Patients Using VA Health Care During the Year

          Veterans     Non-Veterans    Total Patients

FY2001    3,890,871    356,333         4,247,204
FY2002    4,290,717    380,320         4,671,037
FY2003    4,544,430    417,023         4,961,453
FY2004    4,713,583    453,250         5,166,833
FY2005    4,862,992    445,322         5,308,314
FY2006    5,030,582    435,488         5,466,070
FY2007    5,015,689    463,240         5,478,929
FY2008    5,078,269    498,420         5,576,689
FY2009    5,221,583    523,110         5,744,693
FY2010    5,441,059    559,051         6,000,110
FY2011    5,582,171    584,020         6,166,191
FY2012    5,680,374    652,717         6,333,091
FY2013    5,803,890    680,774         6,484,664
FY2014    5,908,042    708,921         6,616,963

Sources: Total Veterans numbers are from VetPop2011
(FY2010-FY2014), available at
vetdata/Veteran_Population.asp, and an archived copy of an
earlier version no longer available on the website
(FY2000-FY2009). VA-Enrolled Veterans numbers and Patients
Using VA Health Care During the Year numbers are from VA
budget submissions for FY2002-FY2015; the number for each
fiscal year is taken from the budget submission two years
later (e.g., the FY2000 number is from the FY2002 budget

Notes: FY2014 numbers for VA-Enrolled Veterans and Patients
Using VA Health Care during the Year are estimates.
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Title Annotation:Veterans Affairs
Author:Bagalman, Erin
Publication:Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Issue Briefs
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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