VA health service utilization for homeless and low-income Veterans: a spotlight on the VA Supportive Housing (VASH) program in greater Los Angeles.Med Care. 2014 May; 52(5):454-61.MC
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-VA Supportive Housing (VASH) program-the VA's Housing First effort-is central to efforts to end Veteran homelessness. Yet, little is known about health care utilization patterns associated with achieving HUD-VASH housing.
We compare health service utilization at the VA Greater Los Angeles among: (1) formerly homeless Veterans housed through HUD-VASH (HUD-VASH Veterans); (2) currently homeless Veterans; (3) housed, low-income Veterans not in HUD-VASH; and (4) housed, not low-income Veterans.
We performed a secondary database analysis of Veterans (n=62,459) who received VA Greater Los Angeles care between October 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011. We described medical/surgical and mental health utilization [inpatient, outpatient, and emergency department (ED)]. We controlled for demographics, need, and primary care use in regression analyses of utilization data by housing and income status.
HUD-VASH Veterans had more inpatient, outpatient, and ED use than currently homeless Veterans. Adjusting for demographics and need, HUD-VASH Veterans and the low-income housed Veterans had similar likelihoods of medical/surgical inpatient and outpatient utilization, compared with the housed, not low-income group. Adjusting first for demographics and need (model 1), then also for primary care use (model 2), HUD-VASH Veterans had the greatest decrease in incident rates of specialty medical/surgical, mental health, and ED care from models 1 to 2, becoming similar to the currently homeless, compared with the housed, not low-income group.
Our findings suggest that currently homeless Veterans underuse health care relative to housed Veterans. HUD-VASH may address this disparity by providing housing and linkages to primary care.