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Editorial: Hefner VAMC steps up

Officials cut a symbolic ribbon on the new Cancer Center at the Hefner VA Medical Center recently ó a significant step forward for veterans in the region.
Before the clinic opened, veterans needing chemotherapy went to VA hospitals in Durham or Asheville or to community providers for treatment. Now they have a 13,000-square-foot Cancer Center in Salisbury thatís part of the VA system.
Veteran Debra A. Johnson was the first patient to receive care there. The Cancer Center gives her and thousands of area veterans access to a program that is not only nearby but also state-of-the-art, according to VA officials.
If the Cancer Center follows the pattern of other VA cancer care, it could give local veterans an advantage.
A study released in June found that older men diagnosed with cancer and treated at Veterans Health Administration hospitals get care that rivals or beats care given to men covered by Medicare and treated at non-VHA hospitals, according to Reuters Health report.
ěThe VA has done a really nice job,î said lead author Dr. Nancy Keating, from Harvard Medical School. Because the organization works on a budget, she said, ěthey have to prioritize the care that they deliver.î
One out of three Americans will develop cancer during their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. Veterans may be particularly prone because of substances they were exposed to during active duty, such as the Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam War.
The Cancer Center at the Hefner VA is one of several projects transforming the Salisbury campus. Threatened a few years ago with reductions in its services, the Hefner VA Medical Center is expanding. Mental health and geriatric care remain its major programs ó and are themselves expanding ó but the center has found it can efficiently deliver an ever-broadening scope of medical care.
It needs strong congressional support to keep up with veteransí needs and the technology required to treat them. Fittingly, U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell helped with the ribbon-cutting ó at a medical center that bears the name of one of his predecessors, U.S. Rep. Bill Hefner.
Outside, buildings at the Hefner VAMC look dated, going back to the 1950s when the center treated veterans of World Wars I and II. Now Vietnam veterans make up the biggest group seeking care, and a new generation from the wars in Iraq and Afghanis-tan is coming along. The Hefner VAMC has changed through the years, too. Inside those old buildings veterans can find state-of-the-art care, as the Cancer Center proves.

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