"Advancing" Advance Care Planning to Veterans in the Veterans Health Administration

Mil Med. 2023 Mar 20;188(3-4):786-791. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usac196.


Introduction: The completion rate of Advance Directive (ADs) in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is unknown. There is substantial literature on the need for effective Advance Care Planning (ACP) that leads to an AD to ensure that health care preferences for patients are known. Advance Directive are essential to consider since ACP, which explains and plans Advance Directive, does not reach all individuals. Health inequities, such as those experienced in rural areas, continue to exist. While ACP may disproportionately affect rural-residing veterans and their providers, a VHA program was specifically designed to increase ACP engagement with rural veterans and to address several systemic barriers to ACP.

Materials and methods: This descriptive analysis seeks to identify patient, provider, and geographic characteristics associated with higher rates of ACP participation in VHA. An observational examination of the profile of veterans and the types of ACP (e.g., individual or in groups) using administrative data for all beneficiaries receiving VHA health care services in federal fiscal year (FY) 2020 was conducted as part of a national program evaluation. The measures include patient-level data on demographics (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender), unique patient identifiers (e.g., name, social security number), geographic characteristics of patient's location (e.g., rurality defined as Rural-Urban Commuting Areas [RUCA]), VHA priority group; provider-level data (e.g., type of document definition, clinic stop codes, visit date used to verify Advance Care Planning via Group Visits [ACP-GV] attendance; data not shown), and electronic health record note titles that indicated the presence of ACP in VHA (e.g., "Advance Directive [AD] Discussion" note title, "ACP-GV CHAR 4 code"). Pearson's chi-square statistics were used for between-group comparisons based on a two-sided test with a significance level of 0.05.

Results: The overall rate of AD discussions among unique VHA users in FY2020 was 5.2% (95% CI: 5.2%-5.2%) and for Advance Care Planning via Group Visits, which targets rural veterans using groups, it was 1.8% (95% CI: 1.8%-1.9%). Advance Directive discussions in VHA are more successful at reaching middle age (M = 64; SD = 16), African Americans, males, veterans living in urban areas, and veterans with a VA disability (Priority Group 1-4). Advance Care Planning delivered in groups is reaching slightly younger veterans under the age of 75 years (M = 62; SD = 15), African Americans, females, disabled veterans (e.g., Priority Group 1-4), and more veterans residing in rural communities compared to the national population of VHA users.

Conclusion: Advance Directive discussion rates are low across VHA, yet intentional efforts with ACP via group visits are reaching veterans who are considered underserved owing to residing in rural areas. Advance Care Planning needs to be a well-informed clinical priority for VHA to engage with the entire veteran population and to support the completion of ADs.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Advance Directives
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Veterans Health
  • Veterans*