1400 VFW Parkway West Roxbury, Massachusetts 02132
From around the country, military veterans diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma often come to the VA Boston Healthcare System.
There is a good reason. It is worth the trip.
When it comes treating pleural mesothelioma, the VA Boston Healthcare System can offer services and expertise no one else in the Veterans Administration can match.
“We’re in a unique position to offer the best care in the world,” said thoracic surgeon Dr. Abraham Lebenthal. “We’re different from most all VA facilities.”
The Boston VA has an advantage unlike anyone else. It has a close, working relationship with the nearby International Mesothelioma Program, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital as well as the Harvard University Medical School, all of which include mesothelioma specialists.
Lebenthal, a military veteran, works at Brigham and Women’s and the Boston VA.
He isn’t the only one, either.
“We have the institutional depth, and systems in place, to handle very complex diseases such as mesothelioma,” he said. “It is so complex, and its care so specialized, that a patient really needs something like this.”
Mesothelioma cases at the Boston VA receive the same committee reviews and scrutiny as they do at Brigham, the most prestigious mesothelioma center in the world.
Doctors at most of the VA hospitals around the country usually see only a couple cases each year of mesothelioma, the rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of mesothelioma cases involve veterans, in part because of the military’s past reliance on asbestos products.
Fortunately for veterans — under the Veterans Choice Program — they can be treated at a specialty center if their local VA provider authorizes it.
The Boston VA Healthcare System has been working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, trying to simplify the process and facilitate travel.
Lebenthal and colleague Dr. Jeff Siegert have set up a phone triage system for veterans with mesothelioma, hoping to raise awareness of what they have available.
Although traveling long distances is difficult, the Boston VA has free lodging available for out-of-town families. It also has a system to help with travel expenses.
“A lot of doctors in the system may see only one or two cases a year. As a patient, you don’t want to be on anyone’s learning curve,” Lebenthal said. “We just want to do right for the veterans.”
Veterans in Boston are fortunate to be so close. The system has three main campuses that are supplemented by six outpatient clinics. Mesothelioma patients are likely to be treated at the Jamaica Plain campus, where surgery, oncology services and radiology is done.
The VA Boston Healthcare System has received accreditation from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and the College of American Pathologists.
The National Institutes of Health sponsors many clinical trials at the Boston VA, where there is an emphasis on turning research into clinical care.
The Boston VA also has various social services for its members and families. There is counseling and a variety of other supportive services.
Families also can take advantage of palliative care and hospice facilities if needed.
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