VA Health Care for Mesothelioma

Quick Summary

The VA Healthcare system has partnered with two of the foremost mesothelioma surgeons in the country who treat mesothelioma patients at VA Hospitals in Los Angeles and Boston. Veterans seeking treatment through the VA can rest assured that they are being treated by the top civilian mesothelioma doctors in the country.

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Using VA Health Care for Mesothelioma Treatment

Veterans considering mesothelioma treatment may feel hesitant about using the VA Health Care System because they may have heard that VA Health Care service is poor.

In fact, the United States Government has ensured that veterans suffering from mesothelioma can have their medical needs met through the VA Health Care System.

These programs were set up so veterans can get quality, affordable health care. However, not all veterans are immediately enrolled in VA Health Care upon discharge from the military. They must apply for enrollment and must meet certain criteria to qualify.

Former service members are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma than the general population due to their asbestos exposure while in the military.

The VA Health Care System includes two of the top mesothelioma doctors in the country — Dr. Abraham Lebenthal in Boston and Dr. Robert Cameron in Los Angeles — who are both well versed in treating pleural mesothelioma.

Visit the UCLA Health website to learn more about Dr. Robert Cameron.


The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert B. Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.

Veterans already enrolled in VA Health Care can see either doctor without having to pay any more for treatment than they would at their local VA Hospital.

Therefore, veterans with no copays when being treated at their local VA Hospital have no copays when traveling to see either of the VA’s specialists.

If veterans suffering from mesothelioma can get a referral from their local VA Hospital to see one of these specialists, the VA will also pay the veteran’s travel expenses to see that doctor.

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In 2003, the eligibility rules were changed, and the number of veterans who could be enrolled in VA Health Care became dependent on the amount of money Congress provided the program each year. Veterans already in the program prior to 2003 were grandfathered in.

Today, a veteran must meet VA Health Care eligibility requirements in order to get their medical treatment covered by the VA.

After applying for enrollment in the program, eligible veterans are placed within Priority Groups 1-8, with those in Group 1 receiving the highest priority for medical care.

Veterans in receipt of VA disability for mesothelioma are usually placed in Priority Group 1, as this group is for veterans with a 50% disability rating or higher.

The Choice Program

Veterans enrolled in VA Health Care are eligible for the Choice Program, which allows veterans to receive care from non-VA facilities.

Veterans can receive mesothelioma care from non-VA facilities if they have been waiting for longer than 30 days for VA medical care or if they live 40 miles or more from a VA medical facility.

As long as the treatment received at a non-VA facility is related to a veteran’s VA-approved health needs, their treatment costs will be covered. For mesothelioma patients, that typically means being covered at 100% of treatment costs.

If the veteran faces an excessive travel burden, such as geographic challenges, environmental factors, or a medical condition, the VA may also cover travel costs.

VA Mesothelioma Programs

If a veteran receives a referral from their local VA physician to see Dr. Lebenthal or Dr. Cameron, the VA will cover travel costs — though such a referral is generally difficult to obtain.

Typically, if the local VA Hospital does not have an oncologist or thoracic surgeon, they will refer the veteran to a civilian doctor for treatment and pay that civilian doctor directly for any treatment the veteran receives from them.

There are few mesothelioma specialists in the country, and most veterans are referred to a civilian doctor. Make sure to seek a doctor who has experience treating mesothelioma.

Contact the Mesothelioma Veterans Center to assist in finding a specialist.

Dr. Cameron and Dr. Lebenthal are among the most well-known mesothelioma doctors in the country.

Being the only mesothelioma doctors in the VA, they are highly sought after. Therefore, a veteran already in the VA Health Care System can seek treatment from either doctor at the VA Hospitals in Boston or Los Angeles without the need for a referral.

However, a referral to one of these doctors from the veteran’s local VA physician means the VA will also pay the expenses associated with traveling to Boston or Los Angeles.

Los Angeles: Dr. Robert Cameron

Dr. Robert Cameron is the director of the Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program at UCLA and the head of thoracic surgery at the West Los Angeles Medical Center, a facility in the VA Health Care System.

Dr. Cameron advocates against the industry standard of removing the entire lung to treat pleural mesothelioma, a procedure known as extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP).

Instead, he prefers to remove the pleural lining along with the tumors, in a lung-sparing surgery he perfected.

Dr. Cameron refined the pleurectomy with decortication (P/D), a meticulous surgery used for pleural mesothelioma patients to remove the tumors and cancerous parts of the lung.

This procedure has proven to be less debilitating for mesothelioma patients than the EPP and remains an effective way to treat the disease.

He is believed to be the first surgeon to use the decortication procedure, along with the pleurectomy, to remove the tumors instead of the entire lung.

Dr. Cameron has performed the P/D on hundreds of patients.

Boston: Dr. Abraham Lebenthal

Dr. Abraham “Avi” Lebenthal is based out of Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital, a facility long held to be the gold standard for pleural mesothelioma treatment.

Dr. Lebenthal also heads the mesothelioma program at the VA Boston Health Care System and specializes in treating pleural mesothelioma using both the EPP and the P/D procedures.

He completed a four-year clinical fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and has returned to Boston after working at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia for three years.

The VA Boston Health Care System is comprised of three different campuses — one in Jamaica Plain, one in West Roxbury, and another in Brockton.

The Boston VA is well-known as a national research and development center, as well as a teaching facility for Harvard’s Medical School.

Dr. Lebenthal has a passion for treating patients with mesothelioma and believes that the VA hospital in Boston is not only the best mesothelioma facility in the VA but one of the best in the country.

Veterans Support Team
Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) PhotoReviewed by:Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG)

VA-Accredited Attorney

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Eric P.W. Hall (Capt RIANG) is an attorney, a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a legal advisor at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center. Today, Eric continues to serve as a Captain in the Rhode Island Air National Guard where he is Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, upholding his dedication to his country and fellow veterans. Eric considers it his duty to help his veteran family and strives to help them navigate the VA and receive the benefits they so bravely earned.

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.

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