by Suzy Subways
APRIL 2007 • Issue 4
Iraq Veterans Demand Comprehensive Care for Returning Vets
War takes an unimaginable toll on its victims, which includes civilians caught in the crossfire as well as active troops and veterans. February’s Washington Post exposé of neglect and unsanitary conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center prompted congressional hearings and the firing of the Army secretary and two generals. Various commentators pointed out the similarities between the Bush administration’s undermining of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Veterans’ Health Administration (VA).
Until recently, the VA was known for providing the best healthcare in America. The media and the public largely ignored numerous reports over the past few years that described the grossly inadequate healthcare combat vets were receiving. Revelations of the conditions at Walter Reed have changed that. As at FEMA, budgets were cut, cronies were hired, and private firms were contracted to do work that could have been done at lower cost by government employees. Just as Katrina highlighted FEMA’s incompetence and inability to protect the residents of New Orleans, the Walter Reed scandal brings to light the shoddy medical treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq [see this excellent animated cartoon].
The VA is the largest provider of HIV and hepatitis C care in the United States. People concerned about HIV/AIDS in this country should pay close attention to VA funding and veterans’ health. One way to do that is to support the work of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). As well as speaking out for an end to the occupation of Iraq, the group advocates full funding for the VA and complete access to quality healthcare (including mental health) and benefits for returning veterans.
One IVAW member from Alabama, Douglas Barber, knew the VA’s neglect all too well. Barber committed suicide in January 2006, after fighting the VA for more than two years to get counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Now, according to IVAW member Mark Lachance, the group has about 400 members—all veterans who have served since 9/11, some of whom are currently stationed in Iraq—and is growing by five to ten new members every day.
Vietnam-Era Vets on the Hepatitis C Battlefield
About one in ten U.S. military veterans has hepatitis C virus (HCV). The vast majority of vets with HCV served during the Vietnam War era—in Southeast Asia, Western Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere. Studies indicate that the most common risk factor for HCV infection was injection drug use. Transfusion was also a major risk factor. Medical advances saved many soldiers who would have died in previous wars, but the blood supply was not yet screened for HCV (the virus wasn’t identified until the late 1980s).
HCV Advocate is packed with the latest news and research, information about hepatitis C (and hepatitis B), and lists of support groups and clinical trials. For up-to-date action alerts asking you to speak out for funding and research, visit the site’s advocacy section, which also discusses how to write effective advocacy letters.
Veterans with hepatitis C have built a supportive and active community. At HCVets.com, for instance, vets with hepatitis C discuss ways people may have been exposed during military service and offer information for vets to determine their eligibility for filing a related military service-connected claim.