Hearing that you have cancer is tough. Learning your cancer has returned and that you and your spouse both need cancer treatment tests your resiliency. Marine Veteran Ron, who has cancer and is legally blind, depends on his wife, Barbara, for nearly everything.

“It isn’t Ron’s first time with cancer but he’s always positive,” says Brandi Kelley, an advanced medical support assistant for the Office of Community Care at Lexington VA Health Care System. “He speaks about all his wife does for him and just shares joy. The world needs more people like that.”

Kelley’s job connects her with community-based providers specializing in types and treatments for cancer. Her typical day is coordinating care between Community Care Network (CCN) providers, VA and Veterans. She works closely with Optum Public Sector Solutions, Inc. (Optum), the CCN administrator in that region of CCN.

Together, VA and Optum ensure Veterans get the care they deserve, whether in a VA facility or in the community.

“We try to make treatment as seamless as possible”

“That’s the textbook answer but it’s so much more,” Kelley says. “I know these Veterans, their families, network providers and our VA doctors. We take a shocking and scary diagnosis and work to make treatment as easy and seamless as possible for the Veteran and their family.

Together, VA and Optum ensure Veterans get the care they deserve, whether in a VA facility or in the community.

“I’m a coordinator, navigator, information source and friend. These aren’t just appointments. Every referral is a person, a father, a mother, a friend, a fellow Veteran.”

In July 2020, Kelley realized the provider Ron and his wife were seeing, and who had treated Ron during his first round of cancer treatment, wasn’t listed as a CNN provider. That put Ron’s treatment at risk of not being covered.

“If we gave Ron a brand new provider, he’d have to start all over and this could harm the couple’s quality of life. It would mean long hours on the road getting to Ron’s appointments only to turn around and go to his wife’s.

“That isn’t healthy and could even impact their recovery.”

So, Kelley called Chris Tolbert, a Veteran Experience Officer for Optum. Tolbert makes sure the community network is robust with providers for Veterans needing care.

“I work with regional VA medical centers daily to understand their needs in supporting Veterans,” Tolbert said. “I learned about Ron’s prior relationship with this cancer doctor and his desire for he and his wife to continue seeing him.”

Helping provider prevent lapse in care

For the next few months, Tolbert and Kelley did a lot of research and found the provider was in fact contracted with CCN but hadn’t been loaded into VA’s appointing system. They helped the provider complete the on-boarding process, and a care referral was made for Ron, preventing any lapse in care.

“I know that Veterans and patients turn to each other in their darkest hours and, knowing they have each other, Ron and Barbara can support each other in their fight against cancer,” Tolbert said.

Ron and Barbara now get treatment closer to home and continue to support each other through the rough days.

“Our mission is to help people live healthier lives and make the system work for everyone. At VA and Optum, this is how we serve our national heroes,” said Tolbert, an Army Veteran.

Here’s more information about VA’s Community Care Network.

Pallas Wahl is a public affairs specialist for the Office of Community Care.

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Published on Jan. 25, 2021

Estimated reading time is 3.1 min.

Views to date: 388


  1. Pallas Wahl February 16, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Thanks for the reply Edward Fake – the photo shown is a stock photo used for this story and is not the Veteran himself.

  2. Edward Fake February 3, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    The Marine veteran, Ron, looks old enough to be a viet nam vet, plus he could have been at Camp Lejeune, so his cancer could be service connected, as could his blindness if he is a nam vet with diabetes.. Has a VA benefits counselor reviewed his eligibly for compensation with special awards?

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