Hepatitis C: the Silent Killer Virus


    Hepatitis C has become know as the silent killer virus because it can be dormant in the body for more than thirty years before manifesting detectable symptoms. On March 17, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) tested all of the blood samples collected that day for Hepatitis C. the results indicate that some 8.4 percent of the veterans in VA hospitals test positive for Hepatitis C, according to VA Under secretary for Health Dr. Kenneth Kizer. This is in line with a Hepatitis C test administered at the VVA 1998 Leadership Conference in which some 9 percent of attendees tested positive.

     On March 26, Dr. Toni Mitchell, who heads the VHA's National Hepatitis C program, in a presentation to VVA's Veterans Affairs Committee and the VVA National Officers at the March Board of Directors meeting, said that VHA felt the preliminary results appear to indicate that VHA was correct about the prevalence of Hepatitis C virus among veterans. In other words, this is more proof that Hepatitis C is a very significant problem that cannot be ignored, and one that will require significant resources in order to address it properly.

     At this session with Dr. Mitchell, VVA leaders from many parts of the country noted that VHA medical-care facilities are not rigorously trying to implement Dr. Kizer's June 1998 letter, and that veterans in high-risk categories were not getting tested. In many locations there was no testing at all.

     When asked why this was the case, local VHA staff said that treatment is to expensive and that, with sparse resources, they were reluctant to test for a condition they did not have the money to treat. VVA believes that, if true, this is astonishingly callous and amounts to a betrayal of trust and a punishable violation of basic medical ethics and laws.

Hepatitis C Legislation's Clearly Needed

     In the House of Representatives, Rep. Vic Snyder (d-Ark.), who is a physician, has introduced HR 1020 to establish presumption of service connection for Hepatitis C for veterans exposed to blood or blood products while in military service. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has introduced the same bill in the Senate, known as S.71.

     VVA is solidly behind Sen. Snowe and Rep. Snyder on this issue. George C. Duggins, VVA's national president, and other VVA officials joined Rep. Snyder in a press conference at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Headquarters in Washington in March to announce the introduction of this proposed legislation. We ask that all VVA  Members contact their members of Congress to ask them to co-sponsor this vital legislation.

     We here in Vermont are very proud to say that our two senators and our lone house member have all signed on these two bills as co-sponsors.

     We will be adding new information as it becomes available to us. In Vermont we have formed a group to work with our own Governor on this very important issue. If you have a question or need some information on this, please contact our State Council Treasurer Ed Jones at edjones1@adelphia.net






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