A U.S. Navy veteran is suing the Department of Veterans Affairs because he tested positive for HIV at a V.A. clinic in 1995 — but the V.A., which is part of the federal government, never told him.
The vet, identified only as John Doe in the suit, said he progressed to an AIDS diagnosis because he hadn’t been treated early for the virus, the Associated Press reports. “The treatment he’s getting now is effective, but he’s had essentially 25 years of wear and tear for having no treatment,” his lawyer, Chad McGowan, told the AP.
Doe, a South Carolina resident, received the HIV test 25 years ago as part of routine testing at a V.A. medical center in Columbia, S.C. He had been classified as disabled due to injuries in a 1976 shipwreck and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from that, and he received his health care through the V.A.
The doctor who ordered the testing didn’t inform Doe of his HIV diagnosis, although V.A. policy required such disclosure, nor did a nurse-practitioner who noted the test results in a 2014 memo, according to the suit, filed last week in federal court. Another doctor Doe saw in 2015 asked him if he knew he was HIV-positive, but this doctor still didn’t diagnose him as such.
Finally, in 2018, Doe saw a non-V.A. doctor at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, due to a health emergency. The doctor did make a definitive diagnosis that Doe was HIV-positive and had developed AIDS, and Doe went on antiretroviral treatment.
He “needlessly suffered for decades with co-existing conditions common in HIV infected persons, including lymphadenopathy, neurotoxoplasmosis, muscle aches and joint pain,” the complaint 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.”
Doe “feels extremely guilty about the girlfriends he’s had over the last 25 years because he didn’t know,” McGowan told the AP.
Failure to disclose results of an HIV test is most unusual, several people told the news service. “I can’t think of any specific situation where someone’s test result was delayed in that way,” said lawyer Scott Schoettes, HIV Project director at Lambda Legal. Lambda has handled numerous cases for HIV-positive people but is not involved in the Doe case.
A V.A. spokesperson declined comment to the AP, saying the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.