Washington, DC – Today, Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) and Tim Ryan (D-OH-13) introduced the Vietnam Era Veterans Hepatitis C Testing Enhancement Act – bipartisan legislation to increase access to Hepatitis C treatment for our nation’s heroes.
“May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and I am pleased to work across the aisle on this important legislation to improve healthcare for our veterans,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Vietnam veterans are at a much greater risk for carrying HCV, and millions of our veterans remain unaware of their status, preventing them from accessing care they need. This commonsense legislation will develop a pilot program to study ways we can expand testing and treatment for our heroes. As the proud representative of more veterans than any Congressional district in New York State, I will continue to deliver results in Congress to repay the debt we owe those who have served.”
“I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Vietnam Era Veterans Hepatitis C Testing Enhancement Act. Currently the rate of HCV is about twice as high in military personnel than in the general public, and no reliable data exists for Vietnam Era Veterans. At the time of the Vietnam War, HCV had not yet been identified and effectively understood along with proper prevention and infection control opportunities. It is critical that the VA and other veteran service organizations be empowered to work at the community level to assess the health needs of these brave men and women. They answered the call to service, and we owe it to them to help now. This legislation will go a long way to addressing this public health concern by initiating a pilot program to screen 350,000 veterans in a handful of urban and rural VISNs for HCV and collecting critical data on HCV for Vietnam Era Veterans,” said Congressman Ryan.
Daniel Kaifetz, USMC, American Legion Post 1619 (Morrisonville, NY): "As a Vietnam Era veteran and Hepatitis C survivor I have seen the damage first hand this deadly viral pathogen can and is doing to my brothers who served. A generation of fine young Americans faced not only the conflict of the Vietnam War, but also this collateral damage which so many still carry today. The majority of those infected with Hepatitis C are not aware they have it, and without treatment this can lead to terminal liver cancer and other serious health complications. The exact rate of hepatitis C infection among Vietnam Era veterans, both combat and non-combat, remains unknown, but is expected to be notably higher than the current rate for non-military personnel. This important pilot study will help gain much needed public health and prevalence information while ensuring affected individuals can know their health status. Moreover, it is imperative that we provide an effective rapid testing program for all Vietnam Era veterans and not just among VA enrollees. This legislation is an important step in honoring the commitment and taking care of those served during the Vietnam Era.”
At the time of the Vietnam War, HCV had yet to be identified and properly understood along with proper prevention and infection control opportunities. While it is currently known that the rate of HCV is about twice as high in military personnel than in the general public, no prevalence data exists for Vietnam Era veterans. HCV is an infectious disease that often goes unnoticed for decades until the liver is damaged so severely that an affected individual’s life is at risk and they require dramatic health interventions, including liver transplantation. However, HCV is also easily diagnosed and can be cured well before catastrophic health issues arise.
Over recent years, the VA has been working diligently to screen, diagnose, and treat veterans impacted by HCV. These efforts are limited though to veterans that actively engage the VA health system. All Vietnam era veterans shared the same exposure risks and must be offered HCV screening regardless of their current eligibility for VA healthcare. Veterans services organization, such as American Legion Post 1619 in Morrisonville, NY, have demonstrated a great deal of success reaching Vietnam Era veterans outside of VA care with rapid, point-of-care outreach testing.
The bipartisan Vietnam Era Veterans HCV Testing Enhancement Act would:
- Establish a narrow pilot program to screen 350,000 veterans in a handful of urban and rural VISNs for HCV using rapid testing and outreach with veterans groups.
- Gain important prevalence data on HCV for Vietnam Era veterans.
- Remove administrative barriers to allow any Vietnam Era veteran to receive an HCV test and understand their need for treatment. Use of rapid testing will ensure all veterans tested will know their HCV status.
- Provide important and timely information on the success of the program to identify subsequent opportunities to expand the program nationally and or to other veteran cohorts that could benefit from outreach testing.