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Free Screenings for Veterans to Combat Cancer Killer

Lucy Nalpathanchil

This week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would start covering the cost of lung cancer screenings. Clinicians are applauding the decision including staff at Middlesex Hospital where it offers free lung screenings to veterans during the month of November. 

Jake Martins served in the U.S. Marine Corps during Vietnam. He described smoking as a habit for much of his life. "For 53 years, four packs day," he said. 

That was until last year, when Martins's wife told him about a program that offered free lung screenings for veterans. He said he couldn't say no, and that his decision paid off. "They found a small node on my right lung," he said. "It was stage one-A cancer. I had surgery. They removed it, and so far, I'm fine."

Veterans are at a much higher risk for lung cancer than the civilian population. According to the Lung Cancer Alliance, 75 percent of veterans who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars smoked. Other risk factors during their service included exposure to asbestos and Agent Orange.

Gean Brown is a Registered Nurse and Clinical Manager of Middlesex Hospital's Cancer Center. Health professionals always stress prevention, and in the case of lung cancer, Brown said these screenings make a difference. "Lung cancer kills more people than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer combined," he said. "So it's a number one cancer killer cause there's no symptoms until it's late stage three or stage four, which is usually incurable."

Credit Lucy Nalpathanchil
Middlesex Hospital held a veterans' health fair on Tuesday, Veteran's Day

Middlesex Hospital began screening veterans three years ago. Brown said at least two individuals found lung cancer early enough that they were able to have surgery and are now cancer free.

Martins said he was one of the lucky ones and now he tells anyone he meets about the screening. "I've placed posters in VFWs, grocery stores, restaurants, where I know older veterans frequent, trying to get the word out," he said.

And even though it's been hard, Martins said he's been able to stop smoking, too.

Private insurers are expected to begin covering the cost of lung cancer screenings in January.Click here for more information about the free screenings for veterans at Middlesex Hospital.

Lucy leads Connecticut Public's strategies to deeply connect and build collaborations with community-focused organizations across the state.

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