Genomic Medicine and Genetic Counseling in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense

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Scenarios in which a servicemember is negatively impacted by pursuing a genetic diagnosis are very rare. More than 90% of the time, genetic counseling and/or testing has no adverse career effect. When they do, it is out of concern for the safety and wellbeing of a servicemember. For instance, if we diagnosis a patient with a genetic form of some arrhythmogenic disorder, part of the treatment plan can be to limit that person’s level of exertion, because it could potentially lead to death. We don’t want to put someone in a situation that may trigger that.

Vickie Venne. We also have a certain number of veterans who ask us about their service disability pay and the impact of genetic testing on it. One example is veterans with prostate cancer who were exposed to Agent Orange, which has been associated with increased risk for developing prostate cancer. I have had men who have been referred for genetic evaluation ask, “Well, if I have an identifiable mutation, how will that impact my service disability?” So we discuss the carcinogenic process that may include an inherited component as well as the environmental risk factors. I think that’s a unique issue for a population we’re honored to be able to serve.

Renee Rider. When we are talking about how the population of veterans is unique, I think it is also important to acknowledge mental health. I’ve had several patients tell me that they have posttraumatic stress disorder or anxiety and the idea of getting an indeterminant test result, such as VUS, would really weigh on them.

In the community, a lot of providers order the biggest panel they can, but for these patients who are worried about getting those indeterminant test results, I’ve been able to work with them to limit the size of the panel. I order a small panel that only has genes that have implications for that veteran’s clinical management. For example, in a patient with ductal breast cancer, I remove the genes that cause lobular breast cancer. This takes a bit of knowledge and critical thinking that our VA genetic counselors have because they have experience with veterans and their needs.

As our time draws to a close, I have one final thought. This has been a heartwarming conversation today. It is really nice to hear that GMS services are appreciated. We in GMS want to partner with our referring providers. Help us help you! When you enter a referral, please let us know how we can help you. The more we understand why you are sending your veteran to GMS, the more we can help meet your needs. If there are any questions or problems, feel free to send us an email or pick up the phone and call us.


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