Anthony Hardie, a disabled Army veteran who served in the first Iraq War, suffers from Gulf War syndrome. He lives an hour's drive away from the closest Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Bay Pines, Fla.
So when he gets lung “flare-ups” several times a year, he uses his private health insurance and goes to a private urgent-care center close to his home in Bradenton. “Forty-five minutes later, I'm walking out with a prescription,” Hardie said.
The VA is facing a torrent of criticism about long waitlists, off-the-books recordkeeping, doctor shortages, and some patient-safety problems. But one issue that hasn't gotten as much attention is the mismatch of VA facilities to where most veterans live. Of the approximately 20.8 million veterans living in the U.S., 9.6 million live in 14 Sun Belt states. Yet only about a third of the VA's 152 hospitals are in those states.
Most VA hospitals are in Northern and Midwestern states where more veterans used to live. Hardie previously lived in Madison, Wis., and received his care at nearby William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital. But in 2013, he moved to Florida, a state with 1.5 million veterans served by six hospitals. In contrast, South Dakota, which has only 76,000 veterans, boasts three VA medical centers.