Ken took advantage of a VA insurance program that allowed him to choose proton therapy for his throat cancer

VA program gives veterans more choice in cancer treatment


When Ken decided he wanted to pursue proton therapy for his throat cancer instead of traditional radiation, he thought navigating his VA insurance would be tricky.

As it turned out, Ken benefited from a program called Veterans Choice, which allows veterans who have significant wait times for treatment or live at some distance from appropriate treatment facilities to receive care at a non-VA site of their choosing.

Ken, who lives about an hour from Tupelo, Miss., was diagnosed with throat cancer after what he assumed were seasonal allergies persisted until he began spitting up blood. That’s what an ear, nose, and throat specialist discovered a tumor.

As he made the rounds of specialists, Ken was shocked to learn that he would need 12 back teeth removed if he opted for traditional x-ray radiation.. He said an oral surgeon told him the radiation would go through his jawbone and kill his teeth. The doctor also recommended inserting a feeding tube prior to treatment, since the effects of the x-rays would render him unable to eat.

“That floored me,” Ken recalls.

It also motivated him to get online and search for treatment options that would do less collateral damage. He discovered proton therapy and, against his own doctor’s advice, he scheduled a consultation at a proton center developed by Provision Healthcare.

“His own position was that he thought it was still too new,” Ken said about his first physician’s opinion. Of course, this is despite the fact that proton therapy has been used to treat cancer since the 1950s and was approved by the FDA in 1988.

Nevertheless, after learning more about proton therapy, and Provision’s pencil beam scanning in particular, Ken was convinced the treatment would allow him to keep his teeth, avoid a feeding tube, and cure his cancer.

The Veterans Choice program allowed him to travel for treatment, and the VA even provided funds for his stay. According to the Veterans Affairs website, someone with VA healthcare benefits can qualify for the program if any one of the following applies:

  1. They have been or will be waiting more than 30 days for VA medical care
  2. The medical treatment (in this case, proton therapy) is not offered at the VA; or
  3. The patient lives more than 40 miles away from a VA medical care facility or has specific issues that make travel difficult.

Ken completed proton therapy treatment successfully, and while he experienced some temporary side effects, such as sore throat and loss of taste, he kept his teeth and the ability to swallow throughout treatment. He credits his care team for helping him navigate through the challenging process of understanding his benefits and helping take steps to secure coverage for his treatment.

“I could’ve taken (traditional radiation) treatment, but from now on I would have had all those other things to deal with,” Ken said. “I’m so thankful I found Provision.”