I met Mr. Jack Flowers during the 11th Celebration of Honor event in Lincoln City, Oregon, in 2014. The annual September event is hosted by the Chinook Winds Casino Resort and the Confederated Tribe of Siletz Indians to honor active duty personnel and Veterans. VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations was asked to give a keynote address and provide an update related to regional and national VA activities.

After the event that year, Jack, who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the treasurer of the Vietnam Veterans chapter for the Umpqua Valley, contacted me in hopes I could assist him in his healthcare at the Roseburg VA Medical Center. He said he had been receiving his healthcare from the VA since January 2005 as a 50-percent service-connected disabled Veteran.

“During basic training they gave you immunizations with air guns, you just walked down an isle while they gave you shots and never wiped off your blood from anyone else’s,” recalled Jack, who believes he contracted Hepatitis C during his military service.  He served in the Army Transportation Corps from 1967-1970, which included a tour in Vietnam from 1968-1969. It was there, he said, that he had contact with body parts of injured personnel, calmly telling me “who knows if I had cuts on my hands when I touched those body parts.”

He said often people assume you were a drug user to have contracted Hepatitis C – the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States. But the risk of contracting Hepatitis C is much greater among Veterans  –  twice that of the general public. Currently, about 180,000 Veterans are diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

Jack found out that he had Hepatitis C in 1995. He said it was like receiving a “death sentence at the time.” He initially received interferon treatments and his wife told him, “it was like living with a stranger,”  and he was extremely sick from the treatments.

Jack Flowers

Vietnam Veteran Jack Flowers says a VA employee “saved his life” in helping him find treatment for Hepatitis C. Photo by Shawn Clark, VA Roseburg.

Within the last 12 months, the FDA approved two sets of Hepatitis C drug treatments. Jack had heard about the one called “Sovaldi,” but was having trouble obtaining the medication. I was able to connect Jack to the pharmacist  and infectious disease doctor at the Roseburg VAMC to assist him with the new treatment.

He started taking Sovaldi in January 2015 and within five weeks he was viral free. Unlike his previous treatments, the new drug had limited side effects; Jack only experienced some insomnia. He came by my office after a treatment one day with tears in his eyes and thanked me for making the connection. “You saved my life,” he said.

Jack is “ecstatic about VA’s care” he has received at the Roseburg VAMC. He encourages other Veterans facing similar circumstances to seek care with VA and specifically the newer Hepatitis C treatment options. While VA caregivers do everything they can to help the Veteran, Jack said that Veterans should have realistic expectations and take responsibility for their healthcare.“VA staff has been good to me,” he said.

Terry Bentley

About the author: Terry Bentley (Karuk Tribe) is a Tribal Government Relations Specialist with VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations. 

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Published on Sep. 22, 2015

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  1. Mark Singleton October 10, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Im am so Glad for Mr. Flowers getting treatment for Hep C!I was told back in the year 2000 that I had Hep.C also they told me over the last 15 years that I could not take the interferon treatment because of my depression.But now there are new treatments out there for Hep.C and Im still fighting tooth and nail to get traeatment for it.Why is the VA denying us treatment for Hep.C?

  2. Lawrence O'Mara September 25, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    I too had the HCV and received treatment for it at the VA. I had no drug use nor was I sexually promiscuous. I too feel that my infection stemmed from the “death” gun. This gun has been proven to transmit viral infections with it’s use in African communities to vaccinate persons. This is where the term death gun originated. No precautions for sterilization was taken between the shots given to service personnel; blood and bodily fluids were flying every where. I was splattered from the person three men ahead of me. Statistics alone should isolate where the contaminated guns method was used. I should also substantiate the fact that the gun did infect many people.

  3. John Murray September 25, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    The new HCV treatment became available last December. It worked great for me. I went from 9 million virus cells down to zero after 4 weeks of treatment. I finished the full 12 weeks of treatment. There was two drugs taken daily that both started with an S. I never had any side effects from them. I had end stage liver disease, kidneys at 15% filtration rate, diabetic and wide spread neuropathy. I also had toxins in my brain that my liver couldn’t filter out (hepatic encephalopathy). I had a liver transplant on April 22, 2014. My new liver worked immediately. I went into surgery (8 hours) bright yellow from jaundice and a hemophiliac from lack of the liver’s blood clotting factors. I woke up after the surgery with my normal skin color and no more bleeding. My kidneys are at 32% now and holding steady. No more brain toxins, but I will have the neuropathy for life. I can’t stress strong enough how important it is the your husband gets rid of the Hep C virus so his liver can start to do it’s job again. My best wishes to both of you on a speedy recovery.

  4. robert alan searcy September 25, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    i too contracted hepc many years ago . im an honest person and will never deny playing with IV drugs a few times as a young soldier but ive always felt that the virus was the result of an army vaccination that went awry . recently i was reading about a study that was conducted over a 17 yr period to track the spread of hepc across the globe . for the purpose of the study they had to discount the group who were infected by contaminated vaccines .. ( duh )
    either way the indy va treated my hepc successfully last spring after three hellish previous attempts and im forever grateful .
    for you people who suspect the air guns as being the culprit — a much worse practice is probably still going on today — skinning trainees heads close enough to draw blood while resting the electric clippers in an inch of bloody disinfectant between haircuts . that close of a haircut isnt necessary , its only done to depersonalize and humiliate young men .

  5. John Murray September 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    I was in the Navy from 1985-90. They used the airgun on me in basic. I had blood flowing down my arm as well as many others in the same line as me. December 2013 I was diagnosed with HCV at the local VA hospital. Two months later my liver died, I had kidney failure, and my blood sugar shot up to 489. After four months in ICU I received a liver transplant. The new liver works great. Today, I have to take anti-rejections meds every 12 hours, blood draws every month, and a full liver and kidney examination each year for the rest of my life. The VA paid for everything, however, they will not admit to any connection of my condition to the airgun shots. They cite the fact that I was born between 1945 and 1965 as the cause of my HCV. I have never had any of the risk factors they like to quote: I don’t drink, engage in risky sexual activity, nor have I had any transfusions. I have already been turned down for a VA disability rating and have a lengthy wait for results on my appeal of that decision. I am labeled permanently and totally disabled because the neuropathy covers most of my body including both hands, feet, and legs. I use a power wheelchair because of the extensive muscle atrophy throughout my body. I receive SSA disability, but nothing beyond that. In spite of all this, I am grateful to the local VA hospital (Iron Mountain, MI) for the care they give me, but that doesn’t pay the bills.

  6. Nadine Pellegrino September 25, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    My husband is 100% disabled veteran that has Hepatitis C, caught in 2001. Which he contacted in the Navy during service. Already took his liver stage 4, and is on dialysis, kidneys together working only 15%. He tried the interferon shots and made him sick as a dog and didn’t help! He heard about the new drug about a year and a half ago, from his dialysis center, but when he went to his VA, they told him it wasn’t available!!! That they will call him when it’s available!! That was about a year or more!!! Then my husband asked again about 2 months ago and he still got the same reply!! Why??

  7. William Hays September 25, 2015 at 11:02 am

    I Thank God Mr. Flowers was able to receive treatment and is now Hep C Free. I am a Army Veteran 1970-72. I too had the BCT Airgun immunizations on April 27, 1970 at Ft. Lewis, WA. In 2004 I was diagnosed with Chronic Hep C, Geno-type 3A, Viral Count 350,000. They were able to trace back to 1970 and my military immunizations. I contacted the VA for help and filed the proper claim paperwork with supporting evidence and and was DENIED! I still retain the denial paperwork and to put it short ” There was no way one could contact any disease from that type of immunization delivery method”. So being denied and very ill, my doctor contacted the Schering Corporation who manufactured the Interferon Alpha 2B. After investigating the situation, they decided to cover the cost of my treatment, which came to $35,000.00. By the Grace of our Lord God, I was Viral Free w/No Detectable Trace in July of 2005 and remain Viral Free to this day. I know of several veterans who experienced the same denial from the VA. Mr. Flowers was lucky. There needs to be an in depth investigation into the VA as to how many were denied treatment.

  8. j sprague September 22, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    They awarded disability for HCV caused by the airguns in basic training. This was true to life, and the main reason they quit using the airguns for immunizations, because they spread virus and bacteria.

    What I would like answered, is if the US Military is aware of this issue, what are they doing about contacting the service members who were in these units where HCV was identified? I mean, when you walk in the line, and each one of us gets shot with the same injection system, every one of us potentially can become infected. They have the records, they have the moral duty, as well as the ethical obligation, so what is being done to notify all those people?

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