They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this Nation. ~Henry Ward Beecher
Memorial Day is a day to remember those brave men and women who fought in the U.S. armed services. Typically we think of it as a day to honor those who died from combat-related wounds, but I prefer to think of it as a day to honor all those who died either directly or indirectly as a result of their service.
How they died does not matter to me. Veterans are often unable to access decent medical services, leaving them to die from diseases or conditions that may be “unrelated” to combat, but are in every way related to combat. The suicide rate for veterans is at an all-time high, particularly for those serving in the Middle East. No one is exempt, whether Army, Navy, Air Force, or National Guard.
However, in addition to those dying from suicide and other traumas, hepatitis C is taking the lives of our veterans. The data vary, with studies showing a hepatitis C prevalence among veterans from three to ten times that of the general population.
Among hepatitis C-positive veterans, the majority served during the Vietnam War era (~63%). The post-Vietnam rate is around 18%. Those serving during WWII and the Korean War had roughly 4% each. Those serving in the Persian Gulf had less than 3% of total hepatitis C infections.
Many of the Vietnam-era veterans are entering into the years where liver damage may reveal itself. According to a 2010 publication by the Department of Veterans Affairs, “Between 2000 and 2008, the annual number of all cause deaths recorded for Veterans with chronic hepatitis C rose from 1,259 (1,129 per 100,000 in VHA care) to 5,967 (4,049 per 100,000 in VHA care), respectively.”
Hepatitis Awareness Month officially ends on May 31st. Our obligation to our veterans never ends.
Information about hepatitis C from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs