Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Secretary Shinseki – Please Notify Veterans There’s No Waiting List at the Zumwalt Mesothelioma Treatment Program in Los Angeles

Dear Secretary Shinseki,

Zumwalt Meso
Treatment Program 
The best medical plan 
no veterans know about.

It’s upsetting to read the allegations in the news about secret wait lists, cover-ups, shabby treatment, premature deaths and a culture of apathy permeating the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What’s equally upsetting is letting veterans suffer and die with either no or minimal treatment even though a qualified medical team is standing by and eager to treat them.

For months now, patients and advocates (including Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.)) have been entreating you and Under Secretary Petzel to simply notify patients and doctors within the vast VA network of the world-class treatment available to veterans suffering from mesothelioma as a result of service-related asbestos exposure. 

About a year ago, the VA Medical Center in West Los Angeles, California approved (but did not budget) the Admiral Zumwalt Mesothelioma Treatment Program. The program is headed up by Dr. Robert Cameron, a well-respected thoracic surgeon who has dedicated his life to the rational treatment of pleural mesothelioma, a cancer which disproportionately impacts US service veterans.

Dr. Cameron and his crew are eager to treat veterans. Unfortunately, despite multiple requests and promises, the VA has yet to perform the simple administrative task of  updating its website and other social media about the existence of the program--notices that would alert veterans suffering from mesothelioma to the high quality treatment which is available them. Neither the VA nor West LA VA websites even mention the program. Please see our letter to Dr. Dean Norman, Chief of Staff, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. 

"When a veteran is
denied care, we are 
all dishonored." 
Barack Obama, 
Aug. 2007.
The mesothelioma treatment team at the West LA VA Medical Center would love to have a list of veterans to treat. But there’s no list, no waiting list and no effort to educate our war heroes stricken with asbestos cancer that help is available.

You’ve read about the double digit number of veterans who have allegedly died while waiting to be treated.  We may never know how many veterans with mesothelioma have died after receiving no or sub-standard treatment. 

According to the popular literature, about 4,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Of those, roughly a third were exposed to asbestos while serving in the Navy. It’s not a stretch to surmise that at least 600 Navy veterans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year--a diagnosis that carries a 9 month life expectancy with no treatment and 11-12 months with chemotherapy only.

Mesothelioma is a rare disease and few doctors are either interested or qualified to treat it with the full arsenal of options available.  It’s a beautiful thing that a world-renowned surgeon like Dr. Cameron is willing to treat veterans, but it’s sad that the VA has done nothing to help educate patients about his extraordinary talents.

Secretary Shinseki, how many vets have to die before this issue finally works its way up to the inbox in your office? We’ve been sending letters to Under Secretary Petzel as well as our representatives for several months. Now that he’s resigned in the wake of the Phoenix scandal, what will happen to those heart-felt letters from patients and their families? Who will read them? Anybody? And more importantly, what will the VA do?

Secretary Shinseki,
please include 
building the Zumwalt
Meso Program in 
your mission to 
provide better and 
more timely
care to veterans.
Secretary Shinseki, we agree with you when you say that it’s your “mission” to provide quality care to each and every veteran. You say you’re “mad as hell” about recent allegations and vow “to do better.” With a budget of $164 billion, to your credit, you haven’t blamed the missteps on a lack of money. And you’re wise to investigate the nexus, if  any, between the waiting lists, which are a fact of life in modern patient management, and premature deaths.

But we are still waiting for a response. The request is simple: Will you please educate veterans and all caregivers within the VA system that the Zumwalt Mesothelioma Treatment Program is alive and well and eager to provide prompt, world-class treatment to veterans suffering from mesothelioma (without placing them on a long list!).

With new reports of the VA medical system’s failures capturing headlines every day, what better time to finally bring attention to an area where the VA has gotten it right!


Roger G. Worthington
May 20, 2014

The family of former Veteran John Johnson has pledged to help 
fund the Zumwalt Meso Program at the West LA VA.

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