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The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair
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Is Hope Support for Veterans Paying Off?

November 4, 2016 - In just two years, The Hope Foundation has awarded a total of $250,000 to 10 U.S. Department of Veterans Administration medical centers to expand access to SWOG and other National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) cancer trials for our military veterans. Is this a good investment?

Trick question! This money is already making a difference. Last year’s winners of VA Integration Support Program grants used those funds to expand the hours of current research staff or hire new staff to process paperwork, screen patients, or collect tissue or other biological samples needed for patients to take part in trials. As a result, 13 NCTN trials nationwide are now newly open to veterans, including our landmark Lung-MAP precision medicine trial. Soon, the NCI-MATCH trial will also be available at select VA sites.

Veterans are responding. We expect the numbers to dramatically increase, but even at this early juncture, some 50 have been screened for trial participation at grant-winning sites, and about a quarter have enrolled. Given trials cannot start up instantly at any institution, VA or not, these numbers are pretty exciting.

In addition, the VA Integration Support Program has sparked conversations between NCTN and VA leaders about other ways they can work together to get veterans better access to cancer trials. That’s key because trials are an important part of the treatment landscape, and may be the only way some cancer patients can access precision medicines and immunotherapies. There are, at any given time, more than 200 open NCTN trials featuring promising investigational drugs and treatment strategies. That menu of NCI trials should be handed to every military veteran with cancer. Veterans deserve the very best health care – and we still maintain oncology trials are the best treatments.

I want to thank every VA medical center that applied for a VA Integration Support Program award and to applaud this year’s winners:

• James J. Peters VA Medical Center, Bronx, NY

• Orlando VA Medical Center, Orlando, FL

• Portland VA Health Care System, Portland, OR

• VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, WA

• Richard J. Roudebush VA Medical Center, Indianapolis, IN

And, in case you forgot, here were last year’s winners:

• Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, Little Rock, AR

• Cincinnati VA Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH

• Durham VA Medical Center, Durham, NC

• VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, Denver, CO

• VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, Manhattan Campus, New York, NY

Deepest appreciation to SWOG member Steve Bartlett for leading this program, as well as the grant reviews, and to Morgan Cox, Jo Horn, and others at The Hope Foundation who championed this new opportunity.

Read more about the VA awards in a press release here. And to every SWOG member who’s served in the military, I thank you. And I will be wishing you well as we celebrate Veteran’s Day next week.

 
     
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