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The Veterans Health Administration’s health care systems across the country provide a variety of services, including quality treatment for the men and women who developed mesothelioma as a result of serving our country.

The Veterans Health Administration has its share of challenges, but the same can’t be said about the way its health care system handles cancers such as mesothelioma.

Veterans account for a disproportionate amount of people stricken with mesothelioma — nearly 30 percent of all mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by veterans — and that amount is traced to exposure to asbestos, once widely used in all branches of the military.

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Providing Care for Asbestos Exposure

“I don’t think anyone in the military knowingly put those serving at risk for mesothelioma,” said Abraham “Avi” Lebenthal, M.D., thoracic surgeon at the Boston VA system. “But there is an obligation now to provide the best care for those men and women who were exposed.”

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Nationwide Treatment Centers

The VA system has more than 1,400 treatment sites nationwide. As in the private sector, some facilities are better than others. While some specialize in particular issues, others are not always equipped to handle rare cancers such as mesothelioma.

Progression in VA Health Care

“In the early ’70s, the VA health care was probably in the bottom tier of the class,” Lebenthal said. “But today it’s in the top tier and continuing to improve. Overall, it’s more scrutinized, with more checks and balances, than in the private sector. And that helps make the VA health system so much better than it was.”

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There are a handful of quality VA health care systems that many doctors say provide the same quality care and treatment as any private sector facilities. Some of these are well-equipped to treat veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases. Others are not considered mesothelioma centers, but provide excellent quality care, particularly in the area of overall cancer treatment.

The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System specializes in mesothelioma treatment and offers a TeleHealth program that allows them to work with mesothelioma patients throughout the country. This program allows the mesothelioma treatment team to participate and oversee the patient’s care remotely.

It is important for veterans to know that if they are in the VA system, they have an option of receiving care at any facility, particularly for rare diseases that are difficult to treat.

  • VA Boston Healthcare System

    VA Boston Healthcare System
    • Name: VA Boston Healthcare System West Roxbury Campus
    • Address: 1400 VFW Parkway West Roxbury, MA 02132
    • Phone: 617-323-7700

    The proximity to the nearby International Mesothelioma Program makes this the most high-profile VA facility in the country when it comes to treating the cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

    The recent addition of Abraham "Avi" Lebenthal, a surgeon who specializes in mesothelioma and also works at Brigham and Women's Hospital, has helped to attract veterans from across the country.

    The system encompasses three campuses and six community outpatient clinics across the Boston area, including campuses in Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Brockton.

    The Boston VA also serves as a national research and development center and a teaching facility for the Harvard Medical School and Boston University Medical School, offering specialized training and state-of-the-art technology. In 2006, it received approval from the College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer Accreditation.

  • VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

    VA Medical Center Los Angeles
    • Name: W Los Angeles Medical Center
    • Address: 11301 Wilshire Boulevard #6005 Los Angeles, CA 90073
    • Phone: 310-478-3711 ext. 44788

    Surgeon Robert Cameron, M.D., who also directs the Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program at UCLA, has attracted international attention. Cameron serves as the chief of thoracic surgery at the West Los Angeles Medical Center, the flagship of this VA system. He pioneered the use of the successful lung-sparing pleurectomy/decortication surgical procedure with mesothelioma patients.

    The Los Angeles system is the largest, most complex in the Department of Veterans Affairs, serving 1.4 million veterans in the area. It consists of three ambulatory care centers, a tertiary care facility and 10 community-based outpatient clinics covering a five-county area.

    Inpatient care is available in neurology, psychiatry, medicine, surgery and rehabilitation. There is a cancer research center headed by James Tomlinson, M.D., that offers a wide variety of clinical trials. It is affiliated with both the UCLA and USC schools of medicine.

    In addition, the Los Angeles VA system offers services that cover spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, women's health, specialty care, and mental health.

  • Miami VA Healthcare System

    VA Medical Center Miami
    • Name: Bruce Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center
    • Address: 1201 N.W. 16th St. Miami, FL 33125
    • Phone: 305-575-7000

    This system serves three South Florida counties that include an estimated 285,000 veterans. The Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center has provided general, medical, surgical and psychiatric services since it opened in 1968.

    It also has the experience of thoracic surgeon Dao Nguyen, a research leader in targeting molecular therapy for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Nguyen splits time between the VA and the acclaimed Sylvester Cancer Center.

    The VA operates 191 hospital beds at the center, including 34 in intermediate care, five in neurology, 82 in medical, six in rehabilitation, 30 in surgical and 36 in spinal cord injury. There also is a 120-bed nursing Home care Unit and 58 beds in psychiatry.

    Less than a mile away from the main center is the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program and a substance abuse clinic, helping to prevent any veterans from falling through the cracks of the health care system.

  • Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center-Houston

    VA Medical Center Houston
    • Name: Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center
    • Address: 2002 Holcombe Blvd. Houston, TX 77030
    • Phone: 713-794-7814

    There are more than 3,500 health care professionals at the VA Medical Center in Houston, allowing it to attract patients from around the country for specialized diagnostic care in cardiovascular surgery, ophthalmology, gastrointestinal endoscopy and treatment of spinal cord injury.

    There also are 120,000 veterans in southeast Texas who rely on the DeBakey Center for their primary health care needs. Many of the programs here have received national honors for long-term care, substance abuse and behavioral health care. The center has received Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services.

    The center is home to a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic, a Cardiac and General Surgery Program, an Epilepsy and Cancer Center, a Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research initiative and a Liver Transplant Center.

    A majority of the staff at the medical center also serve as faculty members at the Baylor College of Medicine, its longtime affiliate. It also has a 259-slot residency program, the largest in the VA system.

    The facility is located on a 118-acre campus and features 386 hospital beds, including a 120-bed transitional unit for long-term care.

  • Atlanta VA Medical Center

    Atlanta VA Medical Center
    • Name: Atlanta VA Medical Center
    • Address: 1670 Clairmont Rd. Decatur, GA 30033
    • Phone: 404-321-6111

    Only 14 percent of U.S. hospitals earn the distinction of top performer from the Joint Commission, leading accreditor of health care organizations in the nation. The Atlanta VA Medical Center made that list in 2011.

    The vision of the Atlanta VA is to be a comprehensive provider, recognized nationally for its excellence in veteran health care, which was affirmed by the Joint Commission. Affiliated with Emory University School of Medicine and the Morehouse School of Medicine, the Atlanta VA also is a teaching hospital, allowing it to use state-of-the-art technology to provide a full-range of patient care services.

    Included in the Atlanta VA system are 179 hospital beds. The system admitted 6,466 patients and handled 861,325 on an out-patient basis in 2010. In addition to the medical center, the Atlanta VA also oversees eight community-based outpatient clinics, along with an outreach clinic in nearby Rome, Georgia.

    It has an extensive research program run primarily by VA scientists and doctors on staff at Emory, giving it quick access to the latest breakthroughs in health care. Atlanta VA features a comprehensive cancer center and also includes one of the nation's Rehabilitation Research Centers of Excellence and research projects that cover everything from low vision and disequilibrium in the elderly to kidney mechanisms of hypertension. They have experienced specialists in a myriad of diseases, including Alzheimer's disease.

VA vs. Private Health Care

Veterans with mesothelioma often wonder if they should even try to get treatment through the VA. They worry it will take a long time to get treatment, and wonder if it is equal to that of private mesothelioma health care.

Treatment

Certain VA health care facilities are equipped with the latest technology to treat mesothelioma, especially the Boston VA Healthcare System and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

While most of the country’s mesothelioma specialists are found at private cancer centers, some are affiliated with VA health care facilities, and they telecommunicate with patients throughout the country. This means that veterans who cannot travel may be able to receive equal care locally, with specialists guiding the treatment remotely.

While most of the country’s mesothelioma specialists are found at private cancer centers, some are affiliated with VA health care facilities, and they telecommunicate with patients throughout the country. This means that veterans who cannot travel may be able to receive equal care locally, with specialists guiding the treatment remotely.

Veterans are also allowed to travel to any VA health care facility in the country once they are accepted into the VA health care system.

Wait

Mesothelioma patients receive priority care because the cancer is considered 100 percent disabling by the VA. Veterans with mesothelioma are placed at the top of the priority level, Priority Level 1, to ensure they receive timely health care.

The wait time for care at a private cancer treatment center will vary depending upon a number of factors. Some centers have a wait time of two weeks for appointments and procedures, while others are near three to six weeks. Time of year and the type of appointment or specialist required can affect wait time.

Cost

The cost associated with VA health care could be considerably less than private health care. Because mesothelioma receives a 100 percent disability rating, little to no copays are collected for health care services. Be sure to check with your VA health care facility about potential costs related to treatment.

The cost for mesothelioma treatment through private health care is usually higher than going through the VA. Mesothelioma treatment can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Some costs may be covered by private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, government programs and nonprofit organizations.

Certain VA treatment centers offer excellent care for veterans with mesothelioma. Veterans also have the option of seeking care or getting a second opinion through private health care.

Additional Resources For Veterans

  1. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (n.d.). Miami VA Healthcare System. Retrieved from: http://www.miami.va.gov/index.asp
  2. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (n.d.). Atlanta VA Medical Center. Retrieved from: http://www2.va.gov/directory/guide/facility.asp?id=38
  3. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (n.d.). VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. Retrieved from: http://www.losangeles.va.gov/index.asp
  4. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (n.d.). Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Medical Center - Houston. Retrieved from: http://www.houston.va.gov/about/index.asp
  5. Boston University School of Medicine. (2015, April). Boston VA Medical Center. Retrieved from: bumc.bu.edu/medicine/dom-introduction/boston-va-medical-center/ http://bumc.bu.edu/medicine/dom-introduction/boston-va-medical-center/
  6. The Joint Commission. (2011). Top Performers on Key Quality Measures. Retrieved from: http://www.jointcommission.org/accreditation/top_performers.aspx
  7. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (n.d.). Health benefit copays. Retrieved from http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/cost/copays.asp

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