By Theresa Edwards Makrush
Helping military veterans and their spouses navigate the Veterans Affairs medical system is a service that Joe Solsona has developed into a nonprofit organization called National Association Veterans & Families - Veterans Support Center. It started in 2008 when his aunt needed homecare and was having difficulty applying for VA benefits. Through that experience, he discovered a tremendous need for help among veterans in similar situations.
"We didn't realize there was such a huge void," said Joe. "It has morphed into something that is much huger than I could have imagined." Since formalizing the nonprofit and becoming accredited with the VA to provide the service to veterans and spouses, the NAVF has handled 30,000 claims and has had only two claims denied. The organization regularly has referrals from the offices of local U.S. congressmen and attorneys to handle claims for Agent Orange, PTSD, homecare and assisted living.
When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014, Joe applied his health care system navigation skills to his own case. He talked to men who had been treated for prostate cancer, including two physicians he knew, who told him about having robotic surgery, brachytherapy, and radiation. He weighed the pros and cons of each treatment and chose proton therapy at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute because, he said, it had similar effectiveness in controlling the cancer but with fewer side effects.
Following hormone therapy, in February 2015 he started eight weeks - 39 treatments - of proton therapy. While on treatment Joe said he experienced fatigue and cut back on the number of hours he worked, going from 14 hours to about seven hours a day. He also noticed that he was more sensitive to the hot weather, but he was still able to compete in skeet, though for shorter periods than usual.
Joe, who turns 67 years old next month, had his six-month follow-up appointment the Wednesday before Halloween and is doing well, though is still recovering his energy level. Yet, he is not concerned for himself, but for others who are facing a cancer diagnosis and could benefit from proton therapy. Through his advocacy, a spouse of someone he knows is being treated with protons for breast cancer. "I feel it's very important for the public, veterans and spouses to be aware of what is available," he said.