Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. / Charles Dharapak, AP
WASHINGTON - Americans' confidence in the medical care provided for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has plummeted to new lows in the wake of the VA scandal, a USA TODAY Poll finds. Most people see the problem as widespread and systemic.
Just one in five rate the job the government does in providing veterans with medical care as excellent or good, about half the percentage who said that in a Pew Research Center survey in 2011. Then, half rated the care as "only fair" or poor; now seven in 10 do.
Those are the lowest ratings in the four times the question has been asked since 2007.
The results underscore the breadth of concerns raised by reports that veterans faced months of delay in getting medical appointments and that some Veterans Affairs officials tried to conceal the long wait times. President Obama accepted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation Friday.
By 67%-16%, Americans see the problems at the VA as widespread, not isolated incidents. Only 12% are very confident the agency can make the significant changes needed in the way the system operations; 42% are somewhat confident about that. Another 42% have little or no confidence that the problems can be fixed.
The issue touches nearly everyone, says Paul Light, a New York University professor and expert in public administration.
"Almost every American alive today knows a vet," Light says. "They know where the VA hospital is in their community. They know a lot about the traumatic brain injuries and they care a lot about helping veterans. This is very personal. We've got a holiday, for God's sake."
But he says Americans are right to be skeptical about fixing the problem. "This is a very creaky health care system and it's going to take time and money -- and time and money aren't naturally available in Washington right now."
Those surveyed are inclined to fault the Obama administration is handling the issue: 32% approve; 45% disapprove. On that, there is a predictable partisan divide. Democrats approve of the administration by 52%-25%; Republicans disapprove by 71%-14%.
The USA TODAY poll of 1,001 adults, taken Thursday through Sunday by Princeton Survey Research, has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points.
Eight in 10 worry that the issue is turning into a political battle in which Democrats and Republicans are more interested in scoring points than solving the issue. A 51% majority say they are "very concerned" about that. On that question, there is almost no difference by party affiliation.
The scandal has fueled fears that soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't getting the support they deserve when they come home. For the first time, a majority of those surveyed, 53%, say the American people do not give the returning soldiers enough support.
Nearly seven in 10 say the U.S. government doesn't give enough support.
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