Weekly Columns

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This annual recognition serves as a reminder of the importance of breast self-exams, mammograms and the life-saving effect early detection has in the fight against this disease. We must ensure we have the resources to prevent it and treat those who develop this cancer.  

Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer in women. The prevalence of breast cancer in women veterans and military populations is estimated to be up to 40 percent higher than the general population according to a study on cancer occurrence by the National Institutes of Health.  

Given the dangerous environments in which military members serve and additional risk factors associated with these locations, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should have the advanced tools and updated policies to enable those who are more vulnerable to get mammograms and tests t an earlier age. Doing so will save lives.

Modernizing the VA’s policies to reflect this reality is critical to upholding our promise to our servicemembers.  

That’s why I introduced the Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act. This legislation would require the VA to conduct mammograms for all women who served in areas associated with burn pits and other toxic exposures regardless of age, symptoms or family history.  

The Senate VA Committee, on which I serve, is pushing the department to make these improvements. The committee unanimously approved this legislation earlier this year. I’m hopeful the SERVICE Act will soon be signed into law so we can make a difference for veterans.

My colleagues and I are taking additional action. This month, we discussed legislation that would expand access to mammography services so we can reach veterans in rural areas. The Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act has bipartisan support and would require the VA to develop a strategic plan to improve breast imaging services, create a telemammography pilot program for veterans in areas where the VA does not offer in-house mammography and expand veterans’ access to clinical trials through partnerships with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This expanded partnership with NCI accredited facilities will enable Arkansans and veterans in all 50 states access to first class care.

The VA is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the research, treatment and prevention of breast cancer. Taking full advantage of its resources will help veterans get the best care available. I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure the VA implements improvements to critical exam protocols and diagnostic testing.

These legislative efforts are crucial to providing women veterans with the services and benefits they earned. We’re certainly moving in the right direction. These bills build on the momentum created by the passage of the Deborah Sampson Act, landmark legislation to eliminate barriers to care and service many women veterans face when accessing VA benefits that was signed into law in early 2021.  

As the population of female veterans continues to grow, we must ensure they have access to VA care and resources, andthat these programs are designed to provide the appropriate services. Improving the VA’s procedures for mammography screenings will help veterans live long and healthy lives.