Monday, 15 July 2024

VA announces steps to increase life-saving screening, access to benefits for veterans with cancer

On Friday, as a part of the Biden Cancer Moonshot, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced several critical new steps to expand preventive services, health care, and benefits for veterans with cancer.

In the next 90 days, VA is making urethral cancers presumptive for service connection for eligible Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans. This means that Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans who deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan and the entire Southwest Asia theater of operations will not need to prove that their service caused their urethral cancer to receive benefits for it.

Instead, VA will automatically assume service connection for the disease and provide benefits accordingly to veterans who have submitted claims. In the next 90 days, urethral cancers will be added to the list of 300+ conditions considered presumptive under the PACT Act, along with many other cancers.

VA is beginning the process to formally evaluate urinary bladder and ureteral cancers for presumptions of service connection for eligible Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans. Over the coming months, VA will evaluate whether there is a relationship between urinary bladder and ureteral cancers and toxic exposures for Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans who deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan, and the entire Southwest Asia theater of operations.

VA will then determine whether these conditions become presumptive conditions for veterans who served in those locations and time periods.

VA is expanding access to genetic, lung, and colorectal cancer screening for veterans. By the end of this year, VA will offer genetic testing to every veteran who may need it, which will help VA understand, treat, and ultimately cure some patients with cancer by reading the code locked in their DNA.

VA will also bring a lung cancer screening program to every VA medical facility, which will help save the lives of the nearly 5,000 Veterans who die from lung cancer every year, and VA will expand screening for colorectal cancer — the second leading cause of cancer death in America — by providing more than one million veterans nationwide with convenient, safe, and effective tests that can be completed in the comfort of their homes.

VA continues to expand the reach of smoking cessation services to Veterans across the nation. As the 1-855-QUIT-VET tobacco quitline and the SmokefreeVET text message program pass their 10-year anniversaries of service, VA will add at least six additional sites to the Quit VET eReferral program by the end of 2024. This will expand capacity to offer veteran-specific, tailored tobacco-use treatment to Veterans.

Additionally, VA recently launched a new pilot program to integrate smoking cessation services into lung cancer screening in recognition of the inherent connection between smoking and lung cancer risk – and VA plans to add at least five additional sites between 2024-2025.

These programs have supported tens of thousands of veterans with high-quality tobacco cessation resources in English and Spanish: Quit VET has provided over 62,000 calls to veterans, and more than 48,000 veterans have made a quit attempt with the SmokefreeVET text program.

In 2023, more than 5,100 veterans enrolled in the SmokefreeVET text program and Quit VET recorded its highest volume of incoming calls yet, with counselors answering 23% more calls than the prior year.

Direct referrals from VA facilities grew 34% over the same time period and by the end of 2023, 40 VA programs were implementing a patient referral program.

This work is a part of fulfilling President Biden’s Unity Agenda and Cancer Moonshot and VA’s aggressive efforts to provide world-class care for over one million Veterans on the cancer care continuum, from screening to survivorship.

“Cancer impacts far too many veterans every year, and under President Biden’s leadership of the Cancer Moonshot, we are fighting to end cancer as we know it,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “These steps will help us save lives and provide the world-class care and benefits that Veterans with cancer so rightly deserve.”

“VA is planting the seeds for the future of cancer care,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Shereef Elnahal, M.D. “By investing in screenings, expanding access, and embracing cutting-edge technologies, VA is revolutionizing cancer care delivery, providing the best care possible to our nation’s heroes.”

This effort builds on VA and the Biden-Harris Administration’s comprehensive efforts to care for Veterans with cancer. Last July, VA expanded cancer risk assessments and mammograms (as clinically appropriate) to veterans under 40, regardless of age, symptoms, family history, or whether they are enrolled in VA health care.

Last September, VA and the National Cancer Institute announced a historic data-sharing collaboration to better understand and treat cancer among veterans. VA has also prioritized claims processing for veterans with cancer — delivering nearly $516 million in PACT Act benefits to veterans with cancer between August 10, 2022 and March 3, 2024. And VA has screened more than 5 million veterans for toxic exposures under the PACT Act — a critical step to detecting, understanding, and treating potentially life-threatening health conditions like cancer.

Moving forward, through advancements in cancer care and forward-thinking research endeavors, VA aims to save even more lives and significantly improve the long-term health outcomes in veterans for generations to come. For more information about VA cancer care, visit https://cancer.va.gov/.

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