A Navy veteran tested positive for HIV. Only, government doctors ‘forgot to tell him for 25 years’

Navy officers parading

A Navy veteran is suing the US government after doctors allegedly forgot to tell him he tested positive for HIV in the 1990s.

The South Carolina man says he was unaware he was living with HIV for more than two decades after government health workers failed to inform him of his test results.

A federal lawsuit explains how he was tested in November 1995 at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centre in Columbia, South Carolina as part of routine lab work.

The veteran, named only as John Doe in the filing, was under the care of the department after being involved in a 1976 shipwreck which left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, “in clear contravention of the standard of care, Mr Doe was not informed of the positive HIV test until decades later”, the lawsuit states.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2018 that the veteran says he was made aware of his status.

In 2014, a nurse practitioner at the Columbia facility had noted the 1995 test results in a memo. Mr Doe still wasn’t informed, the suit states.

He saw another VA doctor in 2015 who asked if he knew who his infectious disease doctor was. When he replied that he didn’t have one, the doctor reportedly asked the veteran if he knew whether he was living with HIV. Even still, the suit states, Mr Doe wasn’t made aware of his positive status.

Finally, in September 2018, the veteran visited an emergency room not affiliated with the department. It was here that he says he was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, and immediately began treatment.

According to the suit, the veteran had by this time developed a number of related illnesses including an infection of his brain tissue.

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

“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.”

The veteran’s lawyer Chad McGowan said he is responding to antiretroviral therapy, but has “had essentially 25 years of wear and tear for having no treatment”.

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

The Department of Veteran Affairs told the Associated Press it “does not typically comment on pending litigation”.

HIV is treated with antiretroviral drugs which prevent the virus from replicating in the body. It’s recommended that anybody diagnosed with HIV begins treatment immediately.

According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, a person who is diagnosed and starts treatment early can expect to live as long as person without HIV.

Once the treatment has lowered the levels of the virus in a person’s blood – their viral load – they are unable to pass on HIV and the virus is no longer able to damage their immune system. This is known as being undetectable (meaning tests can no longer detect HIV in a person’s blood). Undetectable equals untransmittable.