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Category: Veterans

Dr. Marjorie G. Zauderer - Medical Oncologist Specializing in Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma

Marjorie Zauderer of Meso Foundation Receives DoD Grant

A member of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s Science Advisory Board and oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has received a grant from the Department of Defense to help further her mesothelioma research.

Dr. Marjorie G. Zauderer is a medical oncologist specializing in lung cancer and mesothelioma. As the recipient of the DOD’s Career Development Award, she will be provided funding for her research into the role of the BAP1 gene in mesothelioma. Previous research has shown that mutations in BAP1 predisposes people to mesothelioma.

“A better understanding of this gene could mean a better understanding of mesothelioma and how it develops in patients,” said Zauderer in a press release.


BAP1 was first linked to mesothelioma through research done by Drs. Joseph R. Testa of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and Michele Carbone of the University of Hawaii. A 2011 study led by Testa and Carbone and published in the journal Nature followed two families that carried inherited BAP1 mutations and had multiple mesothelioma cases. Family members also developed cancers of the eye, skin, breast, ovaries and kidneys, suggesting that BAP1 mutations underlie multiple cancer types.

More recently, Testa and colleagues found that mice with BAP1 mutations were predisposed to mesothelioma. Their results, published in Cancer Research, also showed that exposure to asbestos—currently the only known cause of mesothelioma—is a more important mesothelioma risk factor than genetics, as mice without BAP1 mutations still developed tumors.

Zauderer has been looking at the role of BAP1 in mesothelioma patients for three years. The DOD grant will provide her project funding for three more years. Her current work is focused on gathering a sufficiently large collection of genetic samples from people with BAP1 abnormalities in order to conduct a detailed analysis. She hopes to have a drug that is ready to begin or has already completed phase 1 clinical testing in the next 3 to 5 years.

The DOD is interested in mesothelioma research because the disease disproportionately afflicts people who served in the Navy or worked in shipyards. Comprising just 8 percent of the U.S. population, veterans represent around 30 percent of all mesothelioma deaths that have occurred in this country.

Mesothelioma typically develops 15 to 40 years or more following initial exposure to asbestos. The Navy and other branches of the military for decades specified asbestos for a wide range of products, including boilers, turbines, pipes, valves, electrical components, and much more. Even veterans who did not directly handle asbestos-containing products are at risk of developing mesothelioma via secondhand exposure.

If you or a loved one served in the Navy and has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact Belluck & Fox, LLP to learn how we can help you.

Comprehensive MESO Center Established at West LA

Comprehensive MESO Center Established at West LA

The Comprehensive Mesothelioma Center (CMC) at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) provides veterans stricken with asbestos cancer access to specialized services and an unprecedented high standard of care. There’s just one problem: most veterans have never heard of the Center.

There is no mention of the Center on the VA website and even many doctors in the VA system aren’t aware that the Center exists.


The Comprehensive Meso Center in West Los Angeles specializes in the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), an aggressive and incurable cancer of the pleura (the lining of the lungs) caused by exposure to asbestos. Approximately one-third of the 3,500 Americans diagnosed each year with mesothelioma are former military members, and yet the US Government has never fully funded a medical program dedicated to veterans with asbestos cancer.

Advocates of the Comprehensive Meso Center in West LA are hoping to obtain $5 million in annual funding to expand the Center through a petition aimed at VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. Supporters ask that it be called the “Elmo Zumwalt Comprehensive Mesothelioma Treatment & Research Center” in honor of Admiral Elmo A. Zumwalt, Jr., the youngest-ever chief of Naval Operations, who died of mesothelioma in 2000.

Son of Veteran Killed by Meso Says VA Has Failed to Publicize Specialty Center

One of the most outspoken advocates of VA-funding for the Center is Michael Johnson. Michael lost his father, Marine Corps veteran John Johnson, to mesothelioma in 2012. John received treatment at VA hospitals in North Las Vegas and Long Beach, but by the time his family learned of the Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program in West Los Angeles, his cancer was beyond treatment.

Michael says that his goal is to prevent something similar from happening to another veteran. He believes that his father would be alive today if John had access to mesothelioma specialists and has been lobbying the VA to provide better information about the services available at the West LA Center through letters. He’s also been getting the word out to the public through his website.

“Despite multiple requests and promises, the VA has yet to perform the simple administrative task of updating its website about the existence of the [mesothelioma] program,” Johnson said in a recent video. “There is no effort to educate our war heroes stricken with this cancer. There is no effort to publicize or build the program. That’s negligent, and that’s wrong.”

How Veterans With Mesothelioma Can Receive Treatment at the CMC

Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma should seek treatment at a mesothelioma center. A list of such centers is available on the website of www.mesotheliomahelp.org.

If you are treating with the VA health system, the team of doctors and nurses at the West LA VA Medical Center have extensive experience diagnosing and treating MPM and are available to care for all veterans stricken with mesothelioma—not merely those residing in the Los Angeles area. In fact, if you are able to secure a referral to the West LA VAMC, the VA will pay for all of your travel expenses.

In order to receive the best available mesothelioma care, veterans treating in the VA health system who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma should take the following actions:

  1. Let your doctor know about the specialty mesothelioma services offered at the West LA VAMC.
  2. Ask for an “inter-facility” consult through the VA’s “TeleHealth” program.
  3. Undergo a “virtual consult”.

If deemed eligible, you may be referred to the West LA VAMC for treatment.

House Votes to Cut VA Workplace Protections - Veterans suffering from asbestos disease

House Votes to Cut VA Workplace Protections

The House voted this week to make it easier to fire ineffective Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, a measure that White House officials threatened to veto. Meanwhile, a plan to reallocate funds from the Veterans Choice program to fund a VA budget gap moved closer to fruition with an amendment tucked inside a highway spending bill.

It’s been a tough year for the Department of Veteran Affairs. Congress passed a $16.3 billion reform law last summer to shore up a scandal over long patient wait times and a VA cover-up of them, but problems persist. A June report indicated that, compared to a year ago, wait times for appointments longer than 30 days are up 50 percent. The department has fired practically no one despite receiving Congressional authority to more easily let go underperforming VA workers. And just weeks before the fiscal year ends, the VA announced that they have a $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

VA Secretary McDonald says that the shortfall is the result of increased demand for VA services, including expensive hepatitis C treatments. To close the gap, he wants to move funds from the Veterans Choice program, which provides funding for vets to see a private doctor if they cannot secure a VA appointment within 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The VA claims that hospital closures could occur if the funding gap is not closed.

House Veterans Affairs committee chair Jeff Miller reluctantly agrees with McDonald’s plan and sponsored an amendment to divert $3.35 billion from the Choice Program, according to ABC News. But as he explained, some veterans could suffer as a result.


“This is going to negatively impact the longevity of the Choice Program that we worked so hard last year to pass and have the president sign into law, that gives the veterans the opportunity to choose where they get their health care and when they get their healthcare,” said Miller.

The Choice Program is slated to run through august 2017 or until its $10 billion is used up.

The same legislation that created the Choice Program also made it easier to fire senior VA executives linked to scandals or found to be underperforming. Only a handful of administrators, however, have been fired. Around 190 lower-level workers associated with the scandal of last summer have faced disciplinary action, but only a few have been fired.

Critics, according to the Military Times, allege that the department is disinclined to fire workers due to complex federal labor rules. In response, House Republicans passed rules this week that shorten fired or demoted workers’ appeals process and limit paid worker suspensions.


Rep. Jeff Miller, who sponsored the VA Accountability Act of 2015, said that, “Bad employees mean bad customer service. If we truly want our veterans to have the very best care and services, status quo is no longer acceptable.”

Rep. Donna Miller (D-MD) called the bill an attempt at “union busting,” while White House officials publicly threatened a veto, saying that the bill could “have a significant impact on VA’s ability to retain and recruit qualified professionals and may result in a loss of qualified and capable staff to other government agencies or the private sector.”

Senate Republicans are expected to take up the measure after their August recess.

Veterans suffering from asbestos disease who have questions about VA compensation or legal questions related to their illness should contact Belluck & Fox, LLP for a free consultation.

Vets can also use our veterans benefits tool to find out whether they qualify for VA financial assistance.

Joseph Belluck

Belluck Helps Inaugurate New Maritime President

Joe Belluck, a member of the State University of New York Board of Trustees, officially participated in the inauguration of Dr. Michael Alfultis, Rear Admiral in the United State Maritime Service, as the eleventh president of the Maritime College of the State University of New York (SUNY). The ceremony also celebrated the College’s 140th anniversary.

Dr. Alfultis graduated with honors from the Coast Guard Academy in 1982. Following graduation, he was assigned to Guam and served as an operations officer aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood. Alfultis then went on to earn advanced degrees in Oceanography from the University of Washington (M.S., 1987) and the University of Rhode Island (Ph.D., 1997) before returning to the Academy in 1989 as a member of its science department faculty.

Alfultis earned the Academy’s Distinguished Faculty Award in in 2009 and retired from the Coast Guard in 2010, a year in which he also began his tenure as the chief administrative officer of the UCONN Avery Point regional campus.

The appointment of Alfultis to the Maritime College presidency took place on June 17, 2014, and he began presidential duties on July 14.

The November 7 ceremony was attended by a full procession of cadets as well as prestigious guests who included Captain Paul “Chip” Jaenichen, the Administrator of the United States Maritime Administration, Captain Timothy Ferrie, President of the Marine Society of the City of New York, and SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.

Belluck helped install the new President of the Maritime College by helping present Dr. Alfultis with his presidential medal. Addressing the attendees, Belluck told them that he was honored to be at the inauguration both because of the wonderful history of the Maritime College and because he had represented many alumni of the school who were exposed to asbestos aboard merchant marine ships.

The Maritime College of the State University of New York was founded in 1874 and is the nation’s oldest and largest maritime academy. Its graduates, many of whom are marine engineers, have assumed leadership positions throughout the maritime industry. Located in Fort Schuyler, at the intersection of the East River and Long Island Sound, the college trains many of the nation’s merchant mariners.

The Maritime College has historically had training ships where cadets and students learned how to operate and maintain ships. These ships have included the Empire State II, Empire State III and Empire State IV. Cadets and students typically participate in a Summer Sea Term to learn the fundamentals of marine operation and maintenance.

Among the first year goals of Dr. Alfultis is replacing the 50-year-old training ship Empire State IV. He also wants to increase retention and graduation rates and increase campus diversity by appealing to more out-of-state students and veterans.

Belluck & Fox, LLP has represented many merchant marines who sailed on the Empire State ships and then went on to careers at numerous shipping companies. Many of these merchant mariners were exposed to asbestos in the engine and boiler room of ships – particularly while maintaining pumps, valves, boilers, turbines and other equipment. Today, the Maritime College is a leader in environmental protection.

If you sailed in the merchant marines and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, contact Belluck & Fox, LLP for a free consultation. They are very familiar with the maritime industry and can help protect you and your family.

Veteran Access to Non-VA Centers for Specialty Care

Veteran Access to Non-VA Centers for Specialty Care

Veterans with mesothelioma who receive health benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are free to receive health care at any VA facility nationwide, providing them with access to mesothelioma specialty services that aren’t available at their local VA hospital.

But this can involve lengthy travel and time spent away from home, conditions that are far from comfortable for patients with painful and incurable cancer.

Fortunately, a rule change to the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act) could allow veterans to seek mesothelioma care outside of the VA network and closer to home.

The Choice Act was President Obama’s and Congress’s response to a scandal that broke last year over long wait time and systemic mismanagement within the VA health system. One of its major provisions is the Veterans Choice Program, which provides veterans access to private health care facilities if they cannot receive an appointment with the VA within 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility.

As it was originally worded, the Choice Program allowed veterans access to private (non-VA) local health care if they lived more than 40 miles from a VA health facility “as the crow flies.” A rule change in April changed the mile requirement from a straight line measure to actual driving distance, an update that VA Secretary Bob McDonald said, “will allow more veterans to access care when and where they want it.”

But some critics say that the Choice Program still doesn’t go far enough because it fails to account for veterans who live within 40 miles of a VA facility but need care beyond what that facility offers.

For example, the MilitaryTimes cites the case of Mark Gendron, an Air Force veteran who lives within 40 miles of a VA clinic with basic services, but not the specialty psychiatric services he needs for his post-traumatic stress disorder. Gendron lives 70 miles from the nearest VA psychiatrist and isn’t eligible to be seen by a non-VA specialist due to his proximity to a VA clinic.

“I just want the care I need,” Gendron told MilitaryTimes. “I shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

A similar situation exists for mesothelioma patients. There are only a handful of VA centers nationwide with the expertise needed to treat veterans suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases. Research suggests mesothelioma patients have better outcomes at facilities with greater expertise in treating the rare cancer. Even hospitals with excellent oncology programs may not be well-suited to treat mesothelioma, a cancer that disproportionately affects Navy and other veterans, who make up around 30 percent of all cases.

If pending Congressional legislation becomes law, however, patients who live farther than 40 miles from a mesothelioma clinic may be able see a mesothelioma specialist closer to home.

According to The Hill, companion bills authored by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) address the plight of veterans who don’t live close to a VA facility that offers the care they need.

“Our legislation calls on the VA to use its authority to provide veterans access to non-VA health care when the nearest VA medical facility within 40 miles drive time from a veteran’s home does not offer the care sought by the veteran,” write the congressmen in an op-ed.


The full text of the House and Senate bills can be read here and here.

For more information on the Veterans Choice Program, visit the VA website.



  • MilitaryTimes
  • op-ed
  • better outcomes
  • Research suggests
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