Washington Scene: Grant Will Fund Lung Cancer Screening Programs at VA Facilities

STS News, Fall 2017 -- A major program that will increase access to lung cancer screening for veterans is moving forward, thanks in part to advocacy efforts by STS surgeon leaders, staff, and Public Director Chris Draft.

The new VA-PALS Implementation Network (Veterans Administration-Partnership to increase Access to Lung Screening) will be funded through a grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation and will dedicate $5.8 million over 3 years to implement evidence-based lung cancer screening programs at 10 VA medical facilities.

Lung screening services will begin at the Phoenix VA Health Care System by December 2017 and expand to nine additional VA medical facilities starting in 2018.

“STS has had a critical role in helping to establish lung cancer screening as a new covered health benefit for both private and publicly insured patients,” said STS Past President Douglas E. Wood, MD, who has been a tireless advocate for access to lung cancer screening. Dr. Wood is Vice-Chair of the National Lung Cancer Roundtable and Chair of the Lung Cancer Screening Panel for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. “The VA-PALS project is an incredibly important program to improve access to lung cancer screening for one of our most vulnerable populations—our nation’s veterans, who have put their lives on the line to protect all of us.”

"The VA-PALS project is an incredibly important program to improve access to lung cancer screening for one of our most vulnerable populations."

Douglas E. Wood, MD

At an STS Legislative Fly-In this past June, Draft, who lost both his wife and an uncle—an Army veteran—to lung cancer, described the importance of low-dose computed tomography screening for veterans and urged members of Congress to support the VA-PALS project.

“This program will dramatically increase the number of people screened,” Draft said. “We know that veterans have a higher smoking rate than other Americans. Prioritizing lung cancer screening is the right thing to do because we’re serving the people who have served us. Catching lung cancer early can make a drastic difference in outcomes.”

Draft emphasized the efforts of many people in making the screening program a reality, including the VA leadership team, Drew Moghanaki, MD, MPH, who leads the Clinical Radiation Oncology Research program at Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and members of the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program, who are advising the VA on the program’s implementation.

The 10 sites chosen for the program account for nearly 1,200 of the 8,000 veterans nationally who are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. The program will focus on finding high-risk smokers and reaching out to them, as opposed to passively waiting for primary care providers to refer them. An emphasis also will be placed on reaching rural veterans.

At the conclusion of the project, a formal evaluation will measure the impact rates of earlier detection, as well as quantify the opportunity for a reduction in mortality.

STS-PAC Celebrates 20 Years

STS-PAC—the only political action committee that exclusively represents cardiothoracic surgery—is celebrating a milestone. Over the past 20 years, STS-PAC has helped the specialty achieve significant victories, including repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate, approval and coverage of transcatheter aortic valve replacement therapy, and preservation of 90-day surgical global payments.

Many STS members have consistently supported STS-PAC over the past two decades. However, support from every STS member who is a US citizen is needed to help mitigate the current challenges facing the cardiothoracic surgery workforce. So far this year, the PAC has raised $95,930 from 249 STS members, with an average contribution of $383. The STS-PAC Board of Advisors has set a goal of raising $200,000 in 2017. If you would like more information about STS-PAC, contact the STS Government Relations office at Advocacy or (202) 787-1230.

Contributions to STS-PAC have fluctuated over the years. An election cycle is the 2-year period leading up to a midterm or presidential election.