As veterans age and the population of senior veterans grows dramatically in the next eight years, Congress worries the Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t prepared for what lawmakers called a “silver tsunami.”
The number of veterans older than 75 enrolled in VA health care is expected to nearly double by 2028, VA leaders told Congress during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday. About half of the 9 million total veterans who receive care at VA are older than 65.
As the veteran population gets older, their need for care also significantly increases, particularly for those with service-connected disabilities. The number of veterans with service-connected disabilities is expected to increase by more than a third by 2028, such as Vietnam veterans ill from Agent Orange exposure or Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans exposed to other toxins. The demand for long-term care -- anything from help around the house to round-the-clock care, including help eating or bathing -- is expected to rise in particular.
But VA may struggle to meet that demand, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
VA faces workforce shortages for nursing assistants and other jobs, which result in waitlists for long-term care and challenges reaching veterans in rural or remote areas, where about a third of all veterans live, according to Nikki Clowers, managing director of health care at GAO.
VA will need to spend $14 billion annually to keep up with this increasing demand for long-term care, according to GAO. In 2018, VA provided or paid for long-term care for more than half a million veterans.