January 24, 2017, by Anum Yoon – Our veterans should receive top-of-the-line medical care – especially when it comes to serious diseases like cancer. Many occurrences of cancer among veterans can be linked back to their time in the service. For instance, soldiers who served in Vietnam may have been exposed to Agent Orange, a known carcinogen. Soldiers of more current conflicts, like Iraq and Afghanistan, are exposed to dangerous pollutants and sometimes chemical weapons.
According to numbers released by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 40,000 of our service men and women are diagnosed with cancer every year, and instead of top-tier care, veterans must instead contend with long waits, subpar facilities and dated equipment – some of which can mean the difference between life and death for those who have served our country and protected American interests.
Hope for Veterans With Cancer
A new initiative for cancer research may be changing how veterans with cancer are treated. This is good news for the many who have lost hope due to denied claims or unconscionably long waits, though it’s still very new. A cancer research group is looking to enroll veterans with lung cancer in clinical trials for experimental therapy, and though this trial is limited to those with lung cancer, this may be the wave of the future.
Nearly a quarter of clinical drug trials are cut because there aren’t enough people participating in the trials. In the meantime, veterans are waiting for cancer treatment, and they sometimes don’t get care until after it’s too late.
The Crises of the VA
Seemingly lost in a shuffle of bureaucracy is the VA, perpetually underfunded and understaffed. Because most state VAs are run through university systems, the last few years have been extremely challenging because funding to education has been cut, too. With cuts to education, then, come cuts to the VAs. Through this terrible trickle-down effect, our veterans are getting left behind, and it doesn’t look like this iteration of Congress will be coming to their aid any time soon.
Since the VA is already slow and inefficient, many veterans are concerned about what will happen under a new president. Though veterans showed Trump much support during the campaign, talk of privatizing veteran health care has many current service men and women concerned, along with those who’ve come back from our recent wars. Since privatizing healthcare is something many feel is far less efficient and cost-effective compared to the alternative, those who rely on VA services are worried.
Non-VA Care as a Possible Solution for Veterans With Cancer
When veterans suffer from diseases that require a certain specialty or technology, they may request non-VA care. Additionally, if physicians aren’t available, or VA facilities aren’t local, they may also seek non-VA care. Though going through a non-VA facility for care may be quicker, there are many stipulations. Unless there’s an emergency, veterans must be pre-authorized to receive non-VA care.
Some situations in which a veteran might receive such care include:
- A lack of specialists in the local VA to treat a specific illness.
- Long waits at the local VA – a crucial exception for those with fast-acting cancer.
- When additional transportation is required to receive treatments – another issue for cancer patients who must have access to regular radiation treatments or chemotherapy.
- The local VA offers a lower standard of care than is customary.
Despite obvious situations where care should be immediate, sometimes pre-authorizations are difficult to get, and they aren’t the first line of defense. Unfortunately, some veterans with cancer don’t even know they need help until it’s too late.
Consider the tragic story of a New Mexico VA, where dozens of veterans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but their test results were delayed. Many died from something that proper care could have stopped. Non-VA care might have helped, had they known they needed it. It’s another example of how partisan gridlock has failed veterans.
A Change for the Better
As many have pointed out, the quality of the VA healthcare system is just as good as a private system, but access is limited and sometimes even blocked. Soldiers must be diligent and patient while waiting for care. If they aren’t persistent, they may get lost in the shuffle. Hopefully, more researchers will look to veterans for clinical trials. Though it isn’t a perfect solution, it may give veterans with cancer the immediate care they need.
Quality care should be accessible, especially for service men and women. Government agencies should be responding to the pleas for help from doctors and healthcare professionals in the VA – those who are working hard to help people who are suffering, but are losing faith in the system.