Veterans who are seeking medical care have the same options as any American; however, many choose to turn to veteran-specific hospitals and medical centers for their care. These facilities are run by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, better known as the VA. The Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated health care system in the U.S. and is comprised of 153 medical centers, outpatient clinics, community living centers, veteran centers, and domiciliaries.
The hospitals and medical centers that are part of the VA system offer a full-range of medical services—surgery, critical care, physical therapy, orthopedics, oncology, mental health care, and dental and vision care—and treat a wide range of illnesses, including mesothelioma. Some VA hospitals also offer advanced services such as organ transplants and plastic surgery.
Veterans’ healthcare facilities serve both men and women and eligibility for treatment at a VA hospital is based solely on active military service in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Those individuals who served in the Merchant Marines during WWII are also eligible. Reservists and National Guard members who were called to active duty by a Federal Executive Order may qualify for VA health care benefits as well and eligibility is also not limited to those who served in combat. WWI or WWII veterans from allied countries may also be eligible for treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital. Other groups who provided military service to the U.S. may also be eligible for care through the system. (Refer to www.va.gov for particulars.)
Top Medical Centers for Veterans Across the U.S.
VA Boston Healthcare System
The VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) is comprised of three campuses—Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, and Brockton—and its facilities serve as a major center of care for veterans in the New England region. Five outpatient clinics—located in Boston, Framingham, Lowell, Plymouth, and Quincy—complement the resources available at the main campuses. Affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Boston University School of Medicine, and numerous other academic institutions, the VABHS is committed to excellence in healthcare, employment of advanced technology, and innovative treatment options through research initiatives.
West Los Angeles VA Medical Center
Affiliated with the UCLA School of Medicine, the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center is part of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS)—currently the largest healthcare system operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Serving a remarkable number of veterans—approximately 1.4 million—the VAGLAHS encompasses a tertiary care facility, three ambulatory centers, and 10 outpatient clinics. Veterans who seek treatment through the VAGLAHS reside primarily in five counties: Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Kern, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo. Dr. Robert B. Cameron, a leading pleural mesothelioma expert in North America, serves as chief of thoracic surgery at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center.
Miami VA Healthcare System
Approximately 153,000 veterans from three South Florida counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe—receive their healthcare services through the Miami VA Healthcare System. The Bruce W. Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center is the main facility of this healthcare system with a wide array of programs, services, and treatment options offered through a complementary network of outpatient clinics—two major satellite facilities located in Key West and Broward County, in addition to five community-based clinics in Deerfield Beach, Homestead, Key Largo, Hollywood, and Pembroke Pines. Among specialty services offered by the Miami VA Healthcare System are an AIDS/HIV center, rehabilitation center for spinal cord injuries, prosthetic treatment center, and a geriatric-focused center.
San Francisco VA Medical Center
This San Francisco hospital is a large facility that offers a wealth of services for eligible veterans ranging from audiology and cancer care to visual impairment services and everything in between. There's also a homeless center on site, as well as a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic and a psychosocial rehab and recovery center. The San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) is affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), School of Medicine—a relationship that has endured for over 50 years. Affiliated community-based clinics are located in Ukiah, Eureka, San Bruno, Santa Rosa, Clearlake, and downtown San Francisco. With $70 million in research expenditures, the SFVAMC boasts one of the largest funded research programs within the Veterans Health Administration network.
VA Puget Sound Health Care System
The VA Puget Sound Health Care System consists of two divisions. The American Lake facility in Tacoma, which opened after World War I as a neuro-psychiatric facility, is now a multi-care facility affiliated with the University of Washington. The Seattle division was built after World War II and includes the VA's first bone marrow transplant unit, a geriatric research, education and evaluation unit, a same-day surgical unit for outpatient procedures, a substance abuse treatment facility, and a spinal cord injury center.
Fayetteville VA Medical Center
This VA center serves veterans in 19 counties in southeastern North Carolina and two counties in northeastern South Carolina. Consisting of one main center and three outpatient clinics, the Fayetteville VA Medical Center offers an extensive range of treatments in its primary care facility, as well as extended care, rehabilitation, and specialty care—oncology, a spinal cord injury program, and a women's health program.
Albany Stratton VA Medical Center
Part of the Upstate New York VA Healthcare Network, the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center serves vets in 22 counties of upstate New York, western Massachusetts, and Vermont. The facility offers specialized services including cardiac catheterization, cardiac rehabilitation, nuclear medicine, radiation oncology, stereotactic radiosurgery, hospice/palliative care, adult day healthcare, post-traumatic stress disorder, compensated work therapy, memory clinic, geriatric assessment, nursing home, and respite care. It is also a designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (Houston, Texas)
Serving nearly 130,000 veterans in southeast Texas, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center is comprised of a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic, VA Centers of Excellence for epilepsy and cancer, an award-winning cardiac and general surgery program, among numerous other services and disease-specific treatment programs and research initiatives. Care is provided by almost 4,000 healthcare professionals, many of whom also serve as faculty members at Baylor College of Medicine—an affiliate of the MEDVAMC for over 50 years. Dr. David Sugarbaker, world-renown thoracic surgeon and mesothelioma expert, is currently on staff at Baylor as chief of general thoracic surgery and director of Baylor’s Lung Institute. Outpatient clinics associated with the MEDVAMC include locations in Texas City, Houston, Beaumont, Lufkin, Katy, Richmond, Tomball, Conroe, Lake Jackson, and Galveston.
More on Medical Support for Veterans
While a diagnosis of mesothelioma is devastating for anyone, for veterans it is also disheartening to learn that this deadly asbestos cancer is often the result of exposure to asbestos while serving their country. A mesothelioma diagnosis is hard to swallow, regardless of how and where the disease originated. Obtaining medical support and optimal care is of the utmost importance and should be in the forefront of the mind of anyone who is diagnosed with this disease.
Mesothelioma is often diagnosed in its latest stages, so seeking appropriate treatment quickly is essential. Fortunately, there is a wide range of medical support available for veterans with mesothelioma. First, it is necessary to locate an oncologist who is trained and skilled in the treatment of this disease. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that not everyone is trained to treat. A thoracic oncologist is the best type of physician as he/she can suggest not only the proper mesothelioma treatment, but also recommend enrollment in clinical trials. An ailing veteran deserves every chance possible to extend his or her life.
Take time to find out where to receive the best medical support. Veterans don't need to limit themselves to VA hospitals. While veterans' networks may be able to suggest facilities where mesothelioma care is top-notch, it is largely up to the individual as to where to seek treatment. Specialists are located throughout the country. Generally, there are more mesothelioma specialists in urban areas and regions that have historically been most affected by the disease, including towns where naval shipyards are or were located.
Because mesothelioma cancer is most often diagnosed after it has done much damage, treatment options may be limited and medical support may include chemotherapy, radiation, or mesothelioma surgery and - in some cases - a combination of all three (multi-modality therapy). Many individuals also turn to alternative therapies, especially when seeking palliative care - which is treatment meant not to cure but to keep the patient comfortable. Palliative measures may include massage, meditation, acupuncture, and other non-traditional therapies.
Veteran-run organizations, like the Veterans Benefits Network, can help former U.S. Armed Forces members who are suffering from mesothelioma determine where they can seek treatment and how they can get the benefits they've earned, especially now that they are ill. Claim information is available from this network as are contacts for both medical and legal help. Many of these organizations also offer chat rooms or discussion boards where veterans with mesothelioma and other diseases can learn about and discuss their options for medical support with others like them.
Because mesothelioma has entered the spotlight more prominently in recent years, options for treatment and medical support for veterans with the disease continue to grow. Research also continues at a brisker pace, with more dollars being allocated to those who have dedicated their careers to studying the disease and coming up with new and better treatments for mesothelioma victims. Because of this, treatment has improved greatly over the last few years and stands to progress even further within the next decade or so.
Other Resources for Veterans
Besides providing medical centers for the comprehensive treatment of a number of diseases, like mesothelioma, and disorders, the U.S. Veterans Administration also provides a host of other services and facilities for veterans. These are designed to address a number of situations and concerns that are often encountered by vets, including challenges facing both men and women who served in the Armed Forces. We have provided a list below of other veteran-specific resources available to former members of the United States military.
The Veterans Healthcare Administration operates more than 230 Vet Centers in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Vet Centers are specifically designed for those who have served in a combat zone, providing outreach services and readjustment counseling. These centers are also opened to family members of veterans who might be dealing with difficult military-related issues.
Community Living Centers
The VA operates more than 130 Community Living Centers throughout the U.S. These are long-term, skilled nursing care facilities that cater to veterans with chronic stable conditions, such as dementia, as well as those who require rehabilitation services, or veterans who need end of life care and comfort. Short term specialized services are also offered at the Community Living Centers, including respite care or intravenous therapy.
The Veterans' Administration's Domiciliary Residential Care and Treatment Program provides bed-based care in a homelike environment for veterans who are suffering from a wide range of illnesses or areas of dysfunction, including medical, psychiatric, vocational, educational, or social problems. The therapeutic community model is used to facilitate progress and change and opportunities are readily provided for community interaction and vocational involvement.
Veterans Integrated Services Network
The VHA Healthcare System is divided into 21 regions known as Veterans Integrated Services Networks (VISN). Each network coordinates the administrative and clinical activities within its specified region of the country. Veterans with any questions or concerns can contact their designated VISN for answers or for a referral to a facility that can provide them with the help they need.
Women's Healthcare Services
These days, women are the fastest growing group within the veterans' population and the VA has gradually discovered that they need to do more to meet the medical needs of their female veterans. Most VA hospitals offer services specific to women including primary care, reproductive services, rehabilitation, treatment for military sexual trauma (forced sex or unwanted sexual advances experienced during military service), and mental health services. A Women Veterans Program Manager is on hand at each VA medical center to help coordinate the treatment available for female veterans who need medical attention.
Veterans seeking medical care should contact a VA hospital or medical center, Community Living Center, Domiciliary, or other facility nearby to learn more about their options for treatment. Click here to locate one of the more than 1,500 VA facilities located throughout the continental United States and beyond.