WASHINGTON (AP) -- Heart attack victims who sought care at Veterans Affairs hospitals had higher death rates than Medicare patients treated at community facilities, according to a VA study released Friday.
The study, involving about 4,000 heart attack victims a year during 1997-99, found that veterans treated at VA hospitals were less likely than Medicare patients to have invasive cardiac procedures, such as angioplasty, angiography or surgery.
Also, veterans who sought VA care when they experienced heart attack symptoms traveled an average of 30 miles for treatment, compared to Medicare patients who traveled an average 15 miles. However, the study did not conclude those were the reasons for the death rate differences.
"The findings ... are unacceptable and immediate action is required and will be taken," VA Secretary Anthony Principi said.
The study found that 50.2 percent of veterans who had heart attacks in 1997 died three years later, compared to 40.5 percent of Medicare patients. Also in 1997, veterans were 9.3 percent more likely to die two years after the heart attack, 6.3 percent more likely one year later.
In 1998, veterans had a 5.2 percent higher death rate two years after and in 1999, veterans had a 6.2 percent higher death rate one year after the heart attack. Statistics for three years after the heart attack were not available for 1998 and 1999.
Researchers in the study said they matched veterans with similar Medicare patients who were 65 years or older and from a national sample.
"It's kind of sad to think that Medicare patients are receiving better care than veterans," said Bill Bradshaw, Veterans of Foreign Wars veterans services director.
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