Wilkie: VA has too few can­cer spe­cial­ists

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - BY TARA COPP AND MICHAEL WILNER [email protected]­clatchydc.com mwil­[email protected]­clatchydc.com

Veter­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Robert Wilkie said the agency is strug­gling with the same short­age of can­cer treat­ment ex­perts that the U.S. med­i­cal com­mu­nity at large has faced, which veter­ans told McClatchy has re­sulted in missed or late-stage can­cer di­ag­noses.

McClatchy last month re­ported in an ex­clu­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion that the rate of uri­nary, prostate, liver and blood can­cer treat­ments has sharply risen over the last two decades of war.

Many veter­ans or their sur­viv­ing spouses told McClatchy that when they went to VA health care cen­ters for care, the can­cers were missed or only caught when they be­came late-stage can­cers.

Wilkie said that the VA, like the U.S. med­i­cal com­mu­nity, has strug­gled to have enough can­cer spe­cial­ists on staff.

“We are not di­vorced from many of the is­sues that im­pact Amer­ica writ large,” Wilkie said at a White House me­dia brief­ing in ad­vance of Veter­ans Day.

“There’s a short­age in this coun­try, not only of can­cer providers, but there’s a short­age in this coun­try of men­tal health providers. We are try­ing to be as cre­ative as we can to bring more peo­ple in those cat­e­gories to us.”

Veter­ans who served in Iraq and Afghanista­n, and pre­vi­ous con­flicts, have be­come much more vo­cal about the ill­nesses that their com­mu­nity is fac­ing.

The pri­mary mil­i­tary sur­viv­ing spouse sup­port net­work, the Tragedy As­sis­tance Pro­gram for Sur­vivors known as TAPS, has re­ported that for the first time, the top rea­son that new mem­bers – mil­i­tary wi­d­ows or wid­ow­ers – joined the or­ga­ni­za­tion over the last fis­cal year was no longer sui­cide, it was due to loss from can­cers and other ill­nesses.

“As of Septem­ber 30, 2019, 28 per­cent of all new TAPS sur­vivors are griev­ing the death

of their mil­i­tary loved one who died due to an ill­ness,” said Coleen Bow­man, TAPS se­nior ad­vi­sor on toxic ex­po­sure. Bow­man’s hus­band, Sgt. Maj. Robert Bow­man, died of can­cer in 2013. “This is now the num­ber one cause of death here at TAPS, be­fore sui­cide, and [killed in ac­tion]. The num­bers are alarm­ing, and speak vol­umes about the grav­ity of this.”

In its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, McClatchy ob­tained through Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quests data on ev­ery can­cer billing to the VA health care sys­tem from fis­cal year 2000 to fis­cal year 2018. In that time frame, the rate of can­cer treat­ments for veter­ans re­ceiv­ing care from the VA’s health care sys­tem rose 61 per­cent for uri­nary can­cers – blad­der, kid­ney and ureter can­cers. The rate of treat­ments for prostate can­cers rose 23 per­cent; liver and pan­cre­atic can­cer treat­ment rates rose 96 per­cent and blood can­cer treat­ment rates rose 18 per­cent.

Dozens of veter­ans who con­tacted McClatchy after the in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­lished said they had been con­cerned about the num­ber of can­cers af­fect­ing the men and women they served with, and some also ques­tioned whether the num­bers are ac­tu­ally higher be­cause not all veter­ans get their health care from the VA health care sys­tem.

In re­cent weeks the is­sue has gained mo­men­tum. A num­ber of veter­ans groups are join­ing forces to con­vince Congress, the De­fense Depart­ment and Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs to make it eas­ier for veter­ans – such as the more than 187,000 now re­port­ing re­s­pi­ra­tory dis­eases they think are tied to ex­po­sure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanista­n – to get care.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, planned to in­tro­duce a bill on Fri­day to help for­mer fighter pilots who are now fac­ing in­creased rates of prostate can­cer they sus­pect may be tied to cock­pit ra­di­a­tion. That bill would re­quire the VA to work with the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences or Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute to de­ter­mine whether cock­pit ra­di­a­tion is tied to the rise in prostate can­cers among pilots.

On Thurs­day, Pen­tagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoff­man said De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper would be trav­el­ing with Wilkie on Veter­ans Day and was ex­pected to raise some of these veter­ans’ con­cerns with him.

“The sec­re­tary has been com­mit­ted to ex­pand­ing ac­cess to re­sources and ac­cess to care for mil­i­tary mem­bers, and we’ll con­tinue to push through with that,” Hoff­man said.

Robert Wilkie

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.