Our Continuing Commitment to Veterans
I’ve worked in a VA medical center, and I know firsthand the benefit of having open cancer trials in those facilities. I also know that many vets don’t get this care that they need and deserve. That experience is why, when I became the group chair at SWOG Cancer Research Network, I wanted one focus to be on the women and men who have served our country in the military. They deserve the very best cancer care – and that includes the option of joining a study.
With full support from our charitable arm, The Hope Foundation for Cancer Research, we started the VA Integration Support Program. This week, in honor of Veterans Day, we announced the latest winners of the $50,000 awards – money that centers can use to hire the nurses, clinical research associates and other staff who do the hard, front-line work of enrolling patients onto trials. I’m proud that SWOG and Hope have now given out 20 awards! To get the details, and see a list and map of all the VA Integration Support Program winners, take a look at our press release.
This Hope program is one obvious sign of our commitment to vets. But it’s not the only one. We started a VA Working Group, headed by Steve Bartlett on Day 1. A SWOG operations office staffer is dedicated to recruiting VA medical centers as part of our membership program. To date, we’ve brought on 31 VA sites, and those sites in turn have enrolled nearly 500 vets to SWOG and other National Cancer Institute-run clinical trials.
Leaders of our Lung-MAP trial are also committed to recruiting vets – see this 2016 story in STAT to meet one of them. Jessica O’Donovan, a Lung-MAP accrual enhancement committee member from the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, has been a big advocate for getting veterans onto that precision lung trial – and has been successful at recruitment herself. Jessica has enrolled several veterans onto Lung-MAP, including Clifford Conlogue, a Vietnam veteran and retired carpenter from Maine who received immunotherapy – and saw his cancer recede. Lung-MAP, he says, saved his life.
I’m pleased to report that we have a Vietnam War veteran, Bruce Wright, now serving as a community advocate. This means Bruce is available to our investigators looking for advice on how best to engage veterans in their trials. If you want to know how to design a trial for veterans, or appeal to them as participants, ask Bruce, who joined our patient advocate team this summer.
Bruce is a survivor of chronic lymphocytic leukemia and prostate cancer. He’s a retired commander in the U.S. Navy, where he served for more than 20 years, and served three tours of duty in Vietnam, work that exposed him to Agent Orange, a known carcinogen. Bruce worked in military aerospace for 30 years, and has been active with the CLL Society, a non-profit, peer-to-peer support, education and advocacy organization. He’s mentored 75 vets and helped them navigate the Veterans Benefits Administration, which oversees disability, insurance, and other benefits and the Veterans Health Administration, the largest integrated health care system in the country. Call on him! Bruce is a deep expert not only in the VA system, but the population that system serves.
I want to thank everyone at SWOG and Hope who actively support our veterans and, of course, I want to thank the vets themselves. Your service keeps us safe and healthy, and we’re working hard to return the favor.