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Americans believe wounded Iraq war veterans are not receiving high quality medical care in US

As part of the ongoing poll series, Debating Health: Election 2008, a recent survey by the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Harris Interactive finds that a majority of Americans (62%) believe that wounded Iraq war veterans do not receive high quality care in military and Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals once they return to the U.S. Similar majorities feel that veterans requiring rehabilitation care and mental health care do not receive high quality care (62% and 65% respectively). This survey follows a number of recent news stories on the quality of health care provided to Iraq war veterans.

Americans who have a close family member who is serving or has served in the military are just as likely as Americans with no military connection to say that wounded Iraq veterans do not receive high quality care in military and VA hospitals (64% versus 59%). These Americans with a military connection are slightly more likely than other Americans to say Iraq veterans do not receive high quality rehabilitation (65% versus 57%) and mental health care (68% versus 61%).

The quality of medical care that wounded soldiers receive on the front lines in Iraq has gotten more favorable news coverage than the care that war veterans receive in the U.S. Many reports have noted that wounded soldiers who would not have survived their injuries in previous wars are surviving today due to the high quality medical care they receive in Iraq. Although more Americans feel that wounded soldiers get high quality care on the front lines in Iraq (47%) than they do in military hospitals once they return to the U.S. (31%), a nearly equal percentage (43%) feel they do not get high quality care on the front lines. Ten percent said they do not know.

A majority (60%) of Americans feel that the health care wounded Iraq war veterans receive in military and VA hospitals is better (10%) or the same (50%) compared to what they would receive in other major U.S. hospitals. Just over one-third (36%) feel the care is worse. Americans with a family member who is serving or has served in the military have a somewhat more negative opinion of military and VA hospitals (41% believe care is worse compared to 29% of other Americans).

Compared to both remaining Democratic presidential candidates, more Americans feel that John McCain will make sure that wounded veterans returning from Iraq receive high quality health services. Fifty-three percent say McCain would be more likely to do this while 35% say Democrat Barack Obama would. Against Democrat Hillary Clinton, 46% say McCain would make sure veterans receive quality care while 37% say Clinton would. Political independents, a key swing group in the election, are more likely to believe McCain would make sure veterans receive quality care than either Democratic candidate (McCain 55% vs Obama 29%; McCain 46% vs Clinton 33%).

Providing quality health care for our soldiers in harms way here and abroad is an emotional issue for many Americans, said Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of The Harris Poll.

The high level of dissatisfaction with the health care services provided to Iraq veterans could become a significant issue in the presidential election, said Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. This issue could be particularly significant for voters who have a family connection to the military.


This survey is part of the series, Debating Health: Election 2008. The series focuses on current health issues in the presidential campaign. The survey design team includes Professor Robert Blendon, Tami Buhr, John Benson and Kathleen Weldon of the Harvard School of Public Health; and Humphrey Taylor, Scott Hawkins and Justin Greeves of Harris Interactive.

This survey was conducted by telephone within the United States among a nationwide cross section of adults aged 18 and over. The survey was conducted April 30 through May 4, 2008 among a representative sample of 1007 respondents. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, size of place (urbanicity) and number of phone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

All sample surveys and polls are subject to multiple sources of error including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. The sampling error for the poll is +/- 3.0% in 95 out of 100 cases for results based on the entire sample. For results based on a smaller subset, the sampling error is somewhat larger.


Contact: Robin Herman
Harvard School of Public Health

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