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Delays in VA Affect Colon and Rectal Cancer Patients

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by Emily White, Advocacy Manager

THE ISSUE - THE VA SCANDAL

In May 2014, watchdog media released information regarding extreme negligence within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The scandal broke national headlines after information regarding secret lists and delayed care within Arizona’s VA system was released. An article published by NBC on May 9 stated,

“Hospital whistleblowers have said that administrators at the Phoenix facility, trying to improve their performance record, ordered that thousands of appointment requests be diverted to a secret, unofficial list of veterans awaiting appointments. If the patients died, their names would simply disappear, the whistleblower said.”[1]

Read the NBC article

DELAYS IN VA GO FAR BEYOND ARIZONA

CALL-ON-CONGRESSAs more information comes to light, evidence indicates that the damage extends far beyond the borders of Arizona and also into the realm of colorectal cancer.

According to a study published in 2010, VAMCs (Veterans Affairs Medical Centers) treat 3 percent of cancers in the United States, of which 11 percent are colon or rectal malignancies[2].

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website claims that the agency is meeting its screening goals for colorectal cancer[3], new evidence suggests that is not entirely true.

“For instance, at a VA facility in South Carolina, a ‘disturbing set of events’ led to thousands of delayed consultations for colon cancer screening, according to a 2013 internal VA report. More than 50 veterans had a delayed diagnosis of colon cancer, and some of them died from the disease, the assistant VA inspector general told a House committee last month (April 2014) [1].”

Furthermore, a report in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of Oncology Practice noted that,

“For patients with colon or rectal cancer treated at VAMCs, wait times for treatment have significantly increased over time. Patient and hospital factors are associated with prolonged treatment times, and opportunities exist to increase the quality of care for veterans with colorectal cancer[4].”

DATA SHOWS WAIT TIMES ARE INCREASING

A recent report looked at data from the VA Central Cancer Registry on 17,487 men and women who were treated for colon or rectal cancer in one of four time periods from 1998 to 2008. The study found that over the ten-year period, wait times increased by a median of 14 days for patients with colon cancer and nearly 30 days for those with rectal cancer treated at high-volume centers. Overall, one in four patients waited 45 or more days before undergoing surgery after receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer[4].

Though the data from the report is from 2008, it can be assumed that the problem has only worsened over time.  The report highlighted that,

“the compounding effects of the aging population, physician shortages and increases in military personnel entering the VA health care system will likely considerably affect demands on VA health care resources [4].”

This explains the massive delays in treatment that we are seeing now, six years later.

CONGRESS TAKES ACTION

This breakdown and corruption in health care has not gone unnoticed or without consequence. Many VA officials have resigned, including the former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki; the former Principal Deputy Under Secretary, Dr. Robert L. Jesse; and the former general counsel, Will A. Gunn.

Such resignations are indicative of the seriousness of this issue.

Additionally, Congress has taken action by passing separate House and Senate bills to double the Department of Veterans Affairs funding. The bill is currently in a House-Senate conference, and due to its strong bi-partisan support, it is predicted that the legislation will be completed soon and sent to the President.

EVERYONE DESERVES ACCESS TO TIMELY CARE

13831120354_f3e21d8e9e_zNot only are we concerned with veterans’ access to treatment, we also monitor the Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP), which funds research for colorectal cancer.

It is our priority to ensure that all veterans, along with every other American, have access to colorectal cancer screening and that all barriers to screening be removed.

As we continue to encourage screening, we must not forget those who lack access to treatment after diagnosis. The anxiety and stress of waiting for doctors’ appointments can be a tremendous strain on patients and their families.

As we monitor this issue, we hope the VA receives the needed funding to effectively intervene and address the growing delay in the VA to treatment for colon and rectal cancer patients, and deliver care in a reasonable and timely way.

Veterans in the fight against colorectal cancer deserve our attention and support. We should thank them with the best treatment and care available—not secret lists and delays in treatment. – Anjee Davis, president of Fight Colorectal Cancer

CONTACT YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

This week while we all stop to recognize and remember our freedom, we can’t help but think about those who’ve served to make it possible – many of whom are impacted by the VA health system.

As we take action this week, we ask you to join us in thanking Congress for their quick and unified effort on this issue. We will continue monitoring the VA health system issue and provide resources for all patients facing the disease.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Chances over the years, but action on VA not enough – CNN

Bill crafted in response to VA scandal gets pushed off Fox News

FOOTNOTES

[1] NBC News Storyline – VA Scandal, May 9, 2014
[2] Jackson GL, Melton LD, Abbott DH, et al: Quality of nonmetastatic colorectal cancer care in the Department of Veterans Affairs. J Clin Oncol 28:3176-3181, 2010
[3] http://www.research.va.gov/news/features/colorectal_cancer.cfm
[4] Merkow, R.P., Bilimoria, K.Y., Sherman, K.L., McCarter, M.D., Gordan, H.S., & Bentrem, D.J. (2013 July). Efficiency of Colorectal Cancer Care Among Veterans: Analysis of Treatment Wait Times at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. Journal of Oncology Practice, 9.
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