VA Health Care:

Alcoholism Screening Procedures Should Be Improved

HRD-91-71: Published: Mar 27, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 18, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO: (1) reviewed how Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) physicians detected alcohol use problems in veterans who applied for health care at VA medical centers; and (2) compared the number of veterans at five VA medical centers who potentially needed alcohol use treatment to the number of veterans receiving treatment at those centers.

GAO found that: (1) 29 percent of the veterans it surveyed at the 5 VA medical centers indicated that they had alcohol use problems, and an additional 14 percent provided information that raised suspicions of alcohol use problems; (2) the five centers provided alcohol treatment to fewer than 3 percent of veterans applying for medical care during fiscal year 1990, primarily due to physician failure to diagnose alcohol use problems; (3) at the five centers, physicians' screening practices varied widely; (4) few physicians routinely or systematically screened all veterans applying for health care for potential alcohol use problems; (5) of 26,143 veterans surveyed nationwide in 1987, 60 percent were unaware that VA provided alcohol treatment; and (6) the Department of Health and Human Services reported that physicians often failed to diagnose alcohol problems due to inadequate training in that area.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with the recommendation and stated that the importance of alcoholism screening will be reemphasized at all VA medical centers. Potential alcohol screening instruments were identified and pilot tested. Based on the results of these tests, alcohol screening guidance was revised in May, 1992.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should require, as a part of the VA preventive medicine program, that each medical center systematically screen veterans for potential alcohol use problems when they apply for health care services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs


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