New VA Initiative Reduces Surgery Complications in Veterans With Mesothelioma

2 Min Read

Mesothelioma veteran with a doctor

Surgery is a common treatment option for veterans with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. However, surgery may result in medical complications.

Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched the Surgical Pause initiative to help prevent complications and death in veterans needing surgery.

“The Surgical Pause is an innovative, data-driven clinical practice that saves veteran lives by predicting and preventing complications before they happen.”
– Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health

Veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma often rely on VA health care for free or low-cost cancer treatment. As a result, this program could help mesothelioma veterans get the best care possible.

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Understanding the Surgical Pause Program

The VA Surgical Pause or Frailty Screening initiative allows doctors and health care providers to predict how a patient may respond to surgical treatment.

These predictions are made by assessing the patient’s frailty and comparing it to patients with similar measurements.

Frailty shows a more detailed picture of a patient’s overall health by taking into account:

  • Age
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Organ function

These measurements can help doctors identify the 5-10% of patients who are at a much higher risk of complications after receiving surgery.

By successfully recognizing high-risk patients, doctors are then able to adjust treatment approaches to meet the needs of each patient. As a result, the initiative was able to decrease the risk of death one year after surgery by 4%.

The Surgical Pause program has been implemented in over 50 VA health care facilities and was recognized with the prestigious John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Award for its innovation. It is one of the many improvements to cancer screening and health care efforts the VA has enacted in the last few years to improve veteran health outcomes.

How the Initiative Could Help Veterans With Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma treatment, including surgery, is one way for patients to improve their life expectancy with this cancer.

Common surgeries for mesothelioma veterans include:

  • Extrapleural pneumonectomy
  • Pleurectomy with decortication
  • Cytoreduction with heated chemotherapy

While these surgeries may help veterans improve their life expectancy, they do come with risks, especially for older patients.

Dr. Raja Flores, a mesothelioma surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital, notes that more extensive surgeries increase the risk of complications. Despite this, he thinks it’s possible to improve practices and carefully tailor a procedure to each patient.

“Now we can do some operations with less than 1% mortality, and that's very important to understand when you're looking at a treatment. You need to have a low complication rate.”
– Dr. Raja Flores, Thoracic Surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital

By measuring each patient's frailty, VA doctors can better understand how to prepare for or avoid complications. As a result, this could further reduce surgery complications and mortality for mesothelioma veterans.

Get Help Accessing VA Health Care & Mesothelioma Treatment

Getting diagnosed with mesothelioma can be financially and emotionally overwhelming. Thankfully, there are several ways veterans can get help after their diagnosis and through treatment.

Our team can help you:

  • Apply for VA benefits so you can access VA health care and disability compensation
  • Pursue compensation through mesothelioma lawsuits and asbestos trust fund claims
  • Find mesothelioma doctors and treatment centers near you

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, get the help you need by calling (877) 450-8973 or requesting a Free Veterans Packet.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs News. (2024, February 15). VA launches new surgery initiative across the nation, a critical step to saving the lives of Veterans considering surgery. Retrieved March 20, 2024, from
  2. Varley, P.R., Buchanan, D., Bilderback, A., et al. (2023, February 22). Association of Routine Preoperative Frailty Assessment With 1-Year Postoperative Mortality. JAMA Surgery. Retrieved March 20, 2024, from