President Trump just signed the Mission Act, which is supposed to help ailing US veterans get prompt care, including the ability to see a civilian doctor on Uncle Sam’s tab.
Don’t count on it.
The fine print shows that vets are guaranteed nothing. The Veterans Affairs secretary is simply empowered to make rules for who gets civilian care. Though Trump and his pick for secretary, Robert Wilkie, favor making it easy for vets, Wilkie’s rules could last only as long as Wilkie remains in office. Worse, they don’t go into effect for two and a half years.
That’s too late for the hundreds of Vietnam vets, now in their 60s and early 70s, who are carrying a dangerous parasite picked up in Asia called liver fluke. Many don’t know it, but it’s a ticking time bomb likely to kill them.
Scandalously, the VA is doing zip to identify and treat these infected vets, even though an ultrasound test can detect liver-fluke infection in minutes and medicine can slow its progression into lethal bile-duct cancer. If there were ever an example of vets needing to be in the driver’s seat about getting outside care, this is it. But the Mission Act requires them to get their VA doctor’s permission first.
Remember the nation’s shock in 2014 when 40 vets died on secret waitlists concocted by VA bureaucrats? That toll is miniscule compared with the deaths being caused right now by the VA’s neglect of vets with liver fluke.
In January, researchers at the Northport, NY, VA found that one out of every five vets tested who remembers eating raw fish in Vietnam — a common practice when rations ran out — is carrying the parasite. More than 100,000 vets could be infected. The parasite lingers in the body for decades, and then — wham — can suddenly cause deadly bile-duct cancer. Some 80-90 percent of them will develop the cancer if their infection goes untreated, according to New York physician Dr. John Cahill, an expert on parasites.
“It’s a huge number,” says Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil, associate professor at New York University Langone Medical Center.
Cahill says he’d like to see every vet who ate raw fish while in Vietnam contacted for an ultrasound.
Instead, the VA is serving up gibberish, claiming “there is currently no evidence that vets have higher infection rates than the general population.”
That’s ridiculous. You can’t get infected with liver fluke in the US. The parasite doesn’t exist here. Cahill calls bile-duct cancer “extremely rare” among the US population. The other highest-risk group is Asian-Americans who travel or once resided in Southeast Asia.
Here’s another whopper. The VA is telling vets if they don’t have jaundice or other symptoms, “they don’t need screening.” In fact, Nampiaparampil stresses that by the time those symptoms appear, the cancer has often progressed too far.
The VA claims there’s “no definitive link” between the parasite and cancer. In truth, there’s a pile of research linking the two. Researchers at Tulane and George Washington University proved the link in 2007 in an article “Liver Fluke Induces Cholangiocarcinoma.” So did findings in the journal Cancer Science in 2010, calling liver-fluke infection “the strongest risk factor” for cancer of the bile duct.
The VA double talk is typical. They did the same thing with service-linked ailments from the Gulf War. This time the VA is launching a “large-scale epidemiological study” that will be ready in about two years.
Pile up reports and do nothing. You could pave over Washington, DC, with the reports produced by the VA.
Meanwhile, Facebook and local newspapers are chronicling the deaths of Vietnam vets from liver-fluke-related cancer.
Time is running out. Vietnam vets need to be contacted, tested if they ate raw fish and treated if they have the infection. The Mission Act isn’t going to save them or other sick vets, any more than previous VA “reform” laws, all hailed by self-congratulating Washington pols when they were passed.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
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