A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

October/November 1998

President's Message

Hepatitis C: Get Tested Today

By George C. Duggins

I would like to convey to all members of the VVA community my best wishes for Thanksgiving and for the upcoming holiday season. In this season when we take time to give thanks for our blessings, we should keep in mind one serious issue having to do with the health of many of us who served in Vietnam: Hepatitis C, the blood-borne infectious disease that is being identified in increasing numbers of Vietnam veterans.

The excellent article William Triplett wrote on that subject in the April/May issue of The VVA Veteran pointed out that there is a high prevalence of Hepatitis C in Southeast Asia. That strongly indicates that many who served in Vietnam were exposed to the disease three decades ago. That's one reason that at VVA's National Leadership Conference in Savannah in August we offered attendees the opportunity to participate in a screening for Hepatitis C virus (HCV).

At the conference 166 veterans took the test to find out if they had HCV in their systems. Nineteen of them either tested positive or "inconclusive" for the antibodies. I was among those whose test was inconclusive. That outcome created a sense of anxiety and apprehension. Those of us whose tests were inconclusive were informed that our blood samples would be subjected to a more thorough testing the following week and the results would be given to us as soon as they were available.

I know from my own experience that this anxiety extended beyond concerns for my own health. I couldn't help thinking how the test results affected my family. If I had the virus, was I transmitting it to others through casual contact? What precautions would I have to take to protect the health of my loved ones?

I know that others who received the same initial results shared my fears. That is understandable, and I would be worried if you weren't concerned about the effect on your families. I was lucky. My subsequent tests proved negative for HCV. Even after re-testing, a total of fourteen veterans tested positive for HCV.

The point of all this is that Vietnam veterans are at very high risk for HCV, the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, as Triplett pointed out in his article. I want to urge each of you to contact your private physician or a VA medical clinic and ask for an HCV test. It is a very simple procedure that requires drawing only a small vial of blood.

If the test is positive, there are drug therapies available that can be effective. We know this because VVA members who have HCV have been treated successfully. In addition to the drug therapy, some life-style changes are advisable. Alcohol consumption should be eliminated or sharply reduced because drinking is a contributing factor to cirrhosis of the liver. Raw sea food should be avoided as well, because of the increased chance of contracting Hepatitis A.

If you test positive, it's a good idea to see a service representative and file a claim with the VA. Hepatitis C has an incubation period of twenty to thirty years. That puts our generation of veterans squarely in the "window of opportunity" for the disease, and those who test positive may be eligible for a service-connected disability, if they were infected with HCV during service.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do not look at a positive test result as a death sentence. It is not. With proper drug therapy and life-style changes, each of us can continue to live healthy, productive lives for many years to come.

Nothing, perhaps, is more alarming than uncertainty. Do yourselves and your families a favor, and get the HCV test today. 

E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org


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