NPR — along with seven public radio stations around the country — is chronicling the lives of America’s troops where they live. We’re calling the project “Back at Base.” This is the first of a three-part series about veteran benefits.
If you’re a veteran and rely on benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where you live may have an effect on whether you receive the benefits you’ve earned.
NPR, together with member stations WBUR, Lakeshore Public Radio and KUOW, looked at data from 3,000 counties nationwide, and found there’s a huge variation in coverage from state to state — and even within a state — on how much the VA spends per veteran.
We also found there’s no obvious pattern. And there’s no strong association between spending per veteran and the size or age of the veteran population, or the affluence of a particular area.
Veterans’ benefits cover a wide range, including health care, monthly disability checks, home loans, life insurance, and education through the GI bill, among others.
Among the states, West Virginia and Arkansas had the highest per-veteran spending in 2013 — just over $7,600. Indiana, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania had the lowest — less than $5,000. Nationally, the average is just over $6,000. That’s after filtering out things like costs to build and operate VA facilities.
When looking specifically at health benefit spending, calculating the amount of spending per “patient” — with a patient being a veteran who gets health benefits — there’s a wide variation that doesn’t fit discernible patterns.
For example, spending is nearly $30,000 per patient in San Francisco, and less than $7,000 per patient in Lubbock, Texas. Nationally, the average is just under $10,000. In places where more veterans are enrolled in VA health benefit plans, spending per veteran did tend to be higher.