Metro Weekly

VA allegedly didn’t tell Navy veteran he was HIV-positive for 20 years

South Carolina veteran claims that he only learned of his diagnosis after his HIV had progressed to "full-blown AIDS"

Photo: Gam1983, via Shutterstock

A Navy veteran is suing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, also known as the VA, after doctors allegedly failed to tell him that he had tested positive for HIV in the ’90s.

The veteran from South Carolina, known as John Doe to protect his privacy, claims that doctors at William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA center in Columbia, S.C., withheld a positive test result from him in 1995.

Doe wasn’t formally diagnosed and provided antiretroviral treatment until 2018, by which point the disease had progressed to AIDS, The State reports.

“The VA had actual knowledge beginning in November 1995 that Mr. Doe was HIV positive and the standard of care required he be informed of the positive test and proper treatment begin in 1995,” McGowan, Hood and Felder, the firm representing Doe, wrote in the suit. “In clear contravention of the standard of care, Mr. Doe was not informed of the positive HIV test until decades later.”

According to the suit, Doe sought treatment for mental and physical injuries stemming from a shipwreck in 1976. His medical records show that doctors noted a positive result for HIV while he was at Dorn VA center, but Doe says that they failed to actually inform him of the result.

He only learned of his diagnosis in 2015, the suit alleges, after a VA doctor noted the positive test result during a conversation.

Per the doctor: “I looked at the patient and ask [sic] him who was his infectious disease doctor, and patient states [sic] did not have one and [I] ask [sic] him if he knew that his HIV test was positive, and he stated [he] never was told it was positive.”

While the doctor reportedly suggested that Doe confirm the diagnosis with another test, the lawsuit doesn’t state whether this occurred.

Instead, in 2018, Doe was hospitalized in non-VA facility Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, where his diagnosis was confirmed and he was given access to antiretroviral treatment.

Doe’s suit states that if he had been made aware of his diagnosis sooner, he would not have progressed to “full-blown AIDS,” which has permanently affected his health and immune system.

“[Doe] needlessly suffered for decades with co-existing conditions common in HIV infected persons, including lymphadenopathy, neurotoxoplasmosis, muscle aches and joint pain,” the lawsuit states.

It adds: “Had Defendants acted within the standard of care, Mr. Doe would not have suffered the losses he has suffered, and will continue to suffer in the future, and more likely than not, he would not have developed AIDS.”

Speaking to ABC News, Chad McGowan, Doe’s lawyer, said, “The treatment he’s getting now is effective, but he’s had essentially 25 years of wear and tear for having no treatment.”

He added: “[Doe] feels extremely guilty about the girlfriends he’s had over the last 25 years because he didn’t know.”

Related:

Two military cadets will be allowed to sue the Pentagon over its ban on HIV-positive service members

California bill bans insurers from discriminating against people living with HIV

Laws criminalizing homosexuality increase risk of gay men getting HIV

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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