The VA has implemented an effort to screen and treat veterans under their care for the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C experts say this proactive approach should be a model for other government health programs and private insurers.
Although about 1 percent of the United States population has the virus, veterans who use the VA for health care suffer from it at a rate of 4.8 percent. Vietnam-era veterans have it at an even higher rate. 7.5 percent of these veterans who use the VA have tested positive for the virus.
There are many theories why this particular demographic suffers from the virus at higher rates. One is that it was not identified as a distinct virus until 1989, and baby boomers grew up in an era when blood wasn’t screened and before disposable needles were common in medical settings. Screening of blood did not begin until 1992.
Older Hepatitis C drugs required shots injected into the stomach and had severe side effects. New medications are nearly 100% effective and have little to no side effects. Since 2014, the VA has cured 96,000 patients of the virus.
In 2016, Congress provided billions in funding, and pharmaceutical companies released new versions of drugs that were more competitively priced. Now the VA will treat anyone with any level of veterans benefits.
Health officials say the disease can be eradicated by 2030, but other health plans need to copy the VA’s aggressive approach to treating the virus.