KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It is considered a life-saving screening which detects breast cancer in the early stages. Mammogram machines can mean the difference between life and death for the one in eight women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.
A FOX 4 investigation revealed female veterans in our community, and 25 other states nationwide, cannot get mammograms at their local VA hospitals. In fact, 65 percent of the VA hospitals across the country do not have this first line of defense in detecting breast cancer.
There are currently more than 2-million female veterans in the county, and 57,000 live in Kansas and Missouri.
Erlinda Goodman is a retired sergeant who served in the marines for 10 years.
“We served our country, we were promised to be taken care of and all of us do matter,” said Goodman.
Several times a month, she makes the trip to the Kansas City VA from Clinton, Mo. Because the drive takes nearly two hours, she tries to schedule her different doctors appointments all on the same day.
“By the time I am done here, that day… the next day is just recouping,” said Goodman.
When it comes to Goodman’s routine mammograms, she is forced to make an additional trip to imaging facilities in Sedalia, Warsaw or Overland Park.
FOX 4 learned the Kansas City VA Hospital does not have a mammogram machine on-site and it is not the only one without the life-saving tool. Only 60 out of the 168 VA hospitals nationwide have mammogram machines on-site. In Missouri, the St. Louis VA is the only one to offer those screenings. Kansas does not have a single mammogram machine at any of its VA hospitals.
“When I saw those numbers, I was really surprised with how low they were,” said Kayda Keleher with the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
She said her organization is currently rallying for more mammogram machines in VA hospitals, especially as the number of female veterans continues to rise.
“By 2030, the female veteran population is expected to be the same size as active duty,” said Keleher.
Even the VA emphasizes the importance of having mammogram machines on site, saying they are more convenient, usage goes up and they provide more timely results.
FOX 4 shared our findings with local lawmakers, including breast cancer survivor Claire McCaskill.
“A mammogram saved my life. So I want to make sure if a woman has risked her life for our country, she has the same opportunity,” said McCaskill.
Missouri Congressmen Sam Graves and Emanuel Cleaver also contacted the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. They sent a letter asking why more VA hospitals do not have these powerful weapons to fight breast cancer.
“I just wanted a couple answers but I did not expect anyone to be listening to me,” said Goodman.
The VA said more female veterans need to sign up for their health benefits to show the demand for the screenings. The Kansas City VA said it has explored adding a mammogram machine on site, but still does not have enough women needing those services to justify the cost, manpower and space of the machine. The Leavenworth VA does not have those “target mammogram numbers” either, but it is now looking at adding a mobile mammogram unit.
These VA hospitals that plan to add on-site mammogram machines:
- Bronx, NY: applying for provisional certificate this week.
- Palo Alto, CA: construction of their area will be finished in 4 weeks.
- Montgomery, AL: equipment installed, no tentative start date from the site
- Louisville, KY: As of January, the space is being renovated.
- Denver, CO: Equipment purchased, no tentative start date
- Augusta, GA: Future plans, no tentative start date
- Atlanta, GA: Future plans, no tentative start date
Other lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas have asked the VA if it plans to add more mammogram machines in its hospitals. Roy Blunt’s office told us this week that “feasibility studies are now underway.” He added this statement:
“Ensuring all of our nation’s veterans have access to quality, timely health care is a top priority. That includes making sure women veterans are able to get the specialized care they need, without navigating extra hurdles to do so. I look forward to hearing more from the Veterans Administration on the actions they’re taking to address the needs of Missouri’s 39,000 women veterans.” – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt. More information on Sen. Blunt’s VA efforts is available here.
Kansas Senator Jerry Moran:
“I am encouraged by the VA’s added emphasis on women’s health care services and the Eastern Kansas VA Health System’s consideration of alternative methods to provide greater access to mammogram services. The agency should listen to the veterans it serves and the veterans service organizations in making strides to provide the best care possible.”
According to a spokesperson for Moran: “Since WDAF first brought this to the senator’s attention, he’s been in touch with Kansas VA officials to learn more. Sen. Moran wants to make certain veterans have access to the best technology available to detect cancer.”
Kansas Senator Pat Roberts:
“I am committed to improving access to quality care for all women veterans whether they receive care at a VA facility or from a private provider,” Roberts said. “Just yesterday the Senate voted to extend the Veterans’ Choice program, which I was pleased to cosponsor in 2014. This legislation provides veterans greater access to care closer to home without having to drive 1, 2 or even 3 hours to the VA in some cases.”
“I am always interested in finding ways to improve the experience for women veterans seeking care in my state. As a veteran myself, I know how important this earned benefit is to those that have sacrificed so much for our nation. As women continue to make up a larger portion of the veteran population in Kansas and across the nation, it is important for the VA to listen and respond to their specific healthcare needs and preferences. For this reason, each Kansas VA facility has a designated Women Veterans Program Manager whose team works directly with women veterans to identify ways to improve existing programs and processes in ways that will produce the best possible health outcomes.”