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Keywords:

  • access to care;
  • demography;
  • geography;
  • health services research;
  • utilization of health services

Abstract

Purpose

While many women choose to live in rural areas after retiring from active military duty, a paucity of studies examine rural women veterans’ health care needs. This report is the first of its kind to describe the population demographics and health care utilization of rural female veteran patients enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Methods

Using the National Patient Care Datasets (n = 327,785), we ran adjusted regression analyses to examine service utilization between (1) urban and rural and (2) urban and highly rural women veterans.

Findings

Rural and highly rural women veterans were older and more likely to be married than their urban counterparts. Diagnostic rates were generally similar between groups for several mental health disorders, hypertension, and diabetes, with the exception of nonposttraumatic stress anxiety that was significantly lower for highly rural women veterans. Rural and highly rural women veterans were less likely to present to the VA for women's specific care than urban women veterans; highly rural women veterans were less likely to present for mental health care compared to urban women veterans. Among the users of primary care, mental health, women's specific, and all outpatient services, patients’ annual utilization rates were similar.

Conclusions

Improved service options for women's specific care and mental health visits may help rural women veterans access care. Telehealth technologies and increased outreach, perhaps peer-based, should be considered. Other recommendations for VA policy and planning include increasing caregiver support options, providing consistency for mental health services, and revising medical encounter coding procedures.