Martin Dames is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam
War. He received the Bronze Star for heroism in the combat zone and
three Purple Hearts for injuries he suffered while fighting. He made it
out alive, only to find out years later that those combat wounds got him
infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a deadly blood-borne
pathogen discovered in 1989 that claims about 19,000 lives annually
, a large number of them veterans. That number is growing every year.
A chronic infection in around 80 percent of cases, HCV
often shows no signs of its corrosive presence until extensive liver
scarring occurs after decades of infection. In some cases, the disease
isn’t found until it has led to cirrhosis—advanced and potentially
lethal amounts of scarring. Infection with the virus is a leading cause
of liver cancer and transplants in the U.S.
Some 3.5 million Americans are infected, including an estimated 234,000 veterans. Approximately 174,000 veterans in government care have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, but an additional 50,000 are thought
to carry the infection unbeknownst to them. For treatment, those
veterans who know they are sick must go to the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) and its health care services extension: the
Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the largest provider of hepatitis C
care in the nation. The VHA serves nearly 9 million patients at over
1,700 sites, but as Dames and many other veterans.
Labels: mortality statistics, VA, Veterans