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Last Modified April 15, 2022
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Does the VA Offer Mesothelioma Treatment?

Several locations within the VA health care system offer specialized mesothelioma treatment. The VA has more than 1,400 treatment centers and at least five of them specialize in mesothelioma treatment.

The Veterans Health Administration has its share of challenges, but the same can’t be said about the way its health care system handles mesothelioma. Veterans have access to several mesothelioma specialists throughout the country within the VA health care system.

Veterans account for a disproportionate number of people stricken with mesothelioma — nearly 30% of all mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by veterans — and it traces back to exposure to asbestos, once widely used in all branches of the military.

VA Centers Specializing in Mesothelioma

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 facility. Some of these VA treatment centers are well-equipped to treat veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Others are not considered mesothelioma centers but provide excellent quality care, particularly in overall cancer treatment.

Quick Fact
It is important for veterans to know that if they are in the VA system, they have the 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

Its proximity to the nearby International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital makes this the most high-profile VA facility in the country when it comes to treating this cancer caused by asbestos exposure. The system encompasses three campuses and six community outpatient clinics across the Boston area, including campuses in Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Brockton.

In 2020, Dr. Hassan Khalil became the director of the Boston VA Mesothelioma Program. He also serves as a thoracic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and as an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

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

VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

VA Medical Center Los Angeles

Name: West Los Angeles VA Medical Center

Address: 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90073

Phone: 310-478-3711 ext. 44788

The Los Angeles VA has mesothelioma expert Dr. Robert Cameron, who also directs the Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program at University of California, Los Angeles. Cameron serves as the chief of thoracic surgery at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, the flagship of this VA system. He pioneered the use of the successful lung-sparing pleurectomy and decortication surgical procedure with mesothelioma patients.

VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System offers a telehealth program that ensures it can work with mesothelioma patients throughout the country. This program allows the mesothelioma treatment team to participate and oversee the patient’s care remotely.

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

In March 2021, 77% of veterans seeking specialty health care felt they could get appointments when they needed them at the West Los Angeles location.

Inpatient care is available in neurology, psychiatry, medicine, surgery and rehabilitation. There is a cancer research center headed by Dr. James Tomlinson that offers a wide variety of clinical trials. It is affiliated with both the University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Southern California 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 W. Carter VA 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 Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center has provided general, surgical and psychiatric services since it opened in 1968.

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

The Miami VA has 191 hospital beds plus a 120-bed nursing home care unit.

From March to October 2020, telehealth appointments at this VA increased 1,300% in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Miami VA staff relied on telehealth to maintain communication with veterans in need of care during the pandemic.

Less than a mile away from the main center is the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans facility and a substance abuse clinic, which helps prevent veterans from falling through the cracks of the health care system.

Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

VA Medical Center Houston

Name: Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

Address: 2002 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030

Phone: 713-794-1414

There are nearly 3,500 health care professionals at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. It attracts patients from around the country for specialized diagnostic care in cardiovascular surgery, ophthalmology, gastrointestinal endoscopy and treatment of spinal cord injuries.

There also are 113,000 veterans in southeast Texas who rely on the DeBakey medical center for their primary health care needs. Many of the programs there have received national honors for long-term care, substance abuse and behavioral health care. The center has received the Magnet Hospital Recognition Program for Excellence in Nursing Services.

The center is home to a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic, a cardiac and general surgery program, an epilepsy center, a cancer center, a substance abuse disorder quality enhancement research initiative and a liver transplant center.

Many of the staff at the medical center also serve as faculty members at Baylor College of Medicine, its longtime affiliate. It also has a 269-slot residency program, the largest in the VA system.

The facility is located on a 119-acre campus and features 350 acute-care hospital beds, including a 141-bed community living center.

Atlanta VA Health Care System

Atlanta VA Medical Center

Name: Atlanta VA Medical Center

Address: 1670 Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA 30033

Phone: 404-321-6111

The Atlanta VA Medical Center is a comprehensive health care provider recognized nationally for its excellence in care for veterans. 

It earned the distinction of top performer in 2011 from The Joint Commission, the leading accreditor of health care organizations in the nation. Only 14% of U.S. hospitals made that list.

Affiliated with the Emory University School of Medicine and the Morehouse School of Medicine, the Atlanta VA also is a teaching hospital. This allows it to use state-of-the-art technology to provide a full range of patient care services.

There are 463 hospital beds in the Atlanta VA system. It admitted 8,361 patients and handled 1,479,098 people on an outpatient basis in 2021. 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 along with the Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence. Research projects range from low vision and disequilibrium in the elderly to kidney issues and hypertension.

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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 in quality to that of private health care for mesothelioma.

Treatment

Certain VA health care facilities are equipped with the latest technology to treat mesothelioma. The VA Boston Healthcare System and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System offer innovative cancer treatments from experts in different fields of treatment, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, surgery and radiation.

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

Telehealth became a vital part of health care access with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, VA health care systems throughout the country continued to report heavy reliance on telehealth medicine to meet veteran health care needs.

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, and this includes telehealth appointments. Virtual health care helps veterans with mesothelioma access a specialist across the country without having to leave their hometown.

Wait Time

Mesothelioma patients receive priority care from the VA because the diagnosis has a 100% disability rating. Approval for a disability claim may take at least three months. Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma must have their disability claim approved before being placed at the top priority level.

Veterans should not delay treatment for mesothelioma while awaiting approval on a disability claim. They should seek cancer care immediately and work with the VA to learn if other compensation options may be available to cover out-of-pocket costs.

While it is important to begin a VA disability claim as soon as possible after positive mesothelioma testing, veterans can apply for grants for treatment, discounts from pharmaceutical companies that make chemotherapy drugs, and travel grants to receive treatment. They can also work with an attorney to file for compensation through an asbestos trust fund or lawsuit.

Cost of Treatment

The cost of mesothelioma treatment in the VA health care system is considerably less than private health care. Once the veteran is enrolled in the VA health care system with service-connected mesothelioma, they can receive treatment for minimal copays that cost a lot less compared to private health care.

The VA will cover nearly all treatment expenses for veterans approved with a service-connected disability from the time the claim was originally submitted. Veterans can expect to pay small copayments for certain medications and therapies, while inpatient care for surgical procedures is fully covered for mesothelioma patients.

It is important to file a claim as soon as possible to receive monthly compensation and gain access to free health care from the VA. The VA may also pay for treatment at a civilian specialty cancer center.


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