DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.1626 ISSN: 2574-3805

Community Emergency Care Use by Veterans in an Era of Expanding Choice

Anita A. Vashi, Tracy Urech, Siqi Wu, Linda D. Tran
  • General Medicine


Recently passed legislation aimed at improving access to care has considerably expanded options for veterans to receive emergency care in community, or non–Veterans Affairs (VA) settings. However, national trends in community emergency department (ED) use by veterans are unknown.


To examine national, temporal trends in the frequencies and types of ED visits provided in community settings and explore the association between facilities’ purchase of community care with facility and regional characteristics.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Retrospective, observational cross-sectional study of ED visits over fiscal years (FY) 2016 to 2022. VA and community ED encounter data were obtained from the VA Corporate Data Warehouse and the Office of Integrated Veteran Care. Participants were veterans receiving ED care at VA facilities or paid for by the VA in the community. Data were analyzed from June to September 2023.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The primary outcome measures included community ED visit volume, disposition, and payments over time. Also, the most common and costly ED visits were assessed. Negative binomial regression analysis examined associations between facility and regional characteristics and the rate of ED visits purchased in community settings relative to all ED visits.


There were 19 787 056 ED visits, predominantly at VA facilities (14 532 261 visits [73.4%]), made by 3 972 503 unique veterans from FY 2016 to 2022. The majority of ED users were male (3 576 120 individuals [90.0%]), and the median (IQR) age was 63 (48-73) years. The proportion of community ED visits increased in absolute terms from 18% in FY 2016 to 37% in FY 2022. Total community ED payments, adjusted to 2021 dollars, were $1.18 billion in FY 2016 and over $6.14 billion in FY 2022. The most common reasons for ED visits in the community were for nonspecific chest pain (305 082 visits [6%]), abdominal pain (174 836 visits [3%]), and septicemia (149 968 visits [3%]). The average proportion of ED visits purchased by a VA facility increased from 14% in FY 2016 to 32% by FY 2022. In multivariable analyses, facilities with greater ED volume and low-complexity facilities had higher expected rates of community emergency care than lower volume and high-complexity facilities, respectively.

Conclusions and Relevance

As veterans increasingly use community EDs for acute, unscheduled needs, attention to factors associated with veterans’ use of acute care services in different settings are important to identify access barriers and to ensure veterans’ health care needs are met.

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