More funding is being sought to treat hepatitis C in veterans.
With more than $2 billion appropriated for new hepatitis C drugs during the past two years, the Department of Veterans Affairs treated 65,000 veterans for the virus, but about 87,000 remain untreated and an additional 20,000 are undiagnosed.
VA officials are seeking $1.5 billion in the 2017 fiscal year to treat more veterans, a group in which hepatitis C is especially prevalent.
Funding for the latest drugs, which have a high cure rate, is not the biggest problem, said David Ross, director of the VA’s HIV, Hepatitis and Public Health Pathogens Programs.
Instead, its challenge is finding ways to help veterans who are unwilling or unable to be screened or treated for the contagious virus, which lives in liver cells and is the most common blood-borne disease in the U.S. Until two years ago, the disease was considered incurable.
Ross and Tom Berger, a leader within Vietnam Veterans of America, said there are several reasons that some veterans don’t volunteer to be screened or decline treatment. Some distrust the VA, are concerned with the stigma of hepatitis C and drug use, and fear traditional drug treatment with severe side effects, they said.
Some veterans who test positive for hepatitis C suffer from mental illness or substance abuse — issues that “affect their ability to come in and take treatments reliably,” Ross said.
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