Jet Injectors = Jet Infectors
January 6, 2016
In spite of the testimonies and evidence presented herein, the VA adamantly refuses to accept that jet injectors are a risk for hepatitis C transmission. On the VA’s website, under Frequently Asked Questions is our most important question: Did I get hepatitis C from air gun vaccinations? “Although it is possible in theory,” the VA proclaims, “there is not enough evidence to confirm this as a risk factor. Attempts to obtain service connection by claiming air gun infection during military service have been controversial” (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2005).
Reflexively, the VA denies veterans’ service-connection claims that cite the jet injector as a risk factor or an etiological cause. The typical service-connection denial letter, like this one from my father’s case, reads as:
“You have indicated that the veteran’s risk factor in service was vaccination with an air gun, however such vaccination is not a medically recognized risk factor for hepatitis C, however there is no current scientific evidence which confirms that hepatitis C can be transmitted by air gun injectors.”
In 2004 the VA backed its rigid position on jet injectors with research. VA Cooperative Study 488, not published until 2005, assessed the prevalence of and risk factors for hepatitis C antibodies amongst veterans enrolled within Veterans Health Administration healthcare. The study found 52 veterans had hepatitis C antibodies. This equated to a 5.4 percent prevalence, which was three times greater than within the general population (1.8 percent). In assessing risk factors, the highest rates of hepatitis C antibodies were found amongst veterans who injected drugs, who served during the Vietnam war era, who served more than 48-hours incarcerated, and who had tattoos. An association between military exposures (such as, combat duty, exposure to blood in combat, and jet injector inoculations) and hepatitis C antibodies were found to be statistically insignificant amongst the veterans studied (Dominitz et al., 2005). VA Cooperative Study 488 did not implicate jet injectors as a risk of hepatitis C but did bring about an internal memo within the VA that has become the gold standard for evaluating jet injector claims.
Carolyn Hunt, the VA’s former Acting Director of Compensation and Pension Service, wrote about the relationship between immunizations with jet injectors and hepatitis C infection as it relates to service-connection. The June 29th, 2004 Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) memo purported, “The large majority of HCV infections can be accounted for by known modes of transmission, primarily transfusion of blood products before 1992, and injection drug use” (VBA Fast Letter 211 (04-13)). Herein Hunt alluded to VA Cooperative Study 488, where 78% of the hepatitis C veterans studied were found to have either the risk of blood transfusions or injection drug use (Dominitz et al., 2005). Hunt goes on to say,
“Despite the lack of any scientific evidence to document transmission of HCV with airgun injectors, it is biologically plausible. It is essential that the report upon which the determination of service connection is made includes a full discussion of all modes of transmission, and a rationale as to why the examiner believes the airgun was the source of the veteran’s hepatitis C” (VBA Fast Letter 211 (04-13)).
That is to say, although the transmission of hepatitis C through blood contamination on the nozzle of the jet injector to subsequent vaccinees is “biologically plausible,” or in other words possible in theory, does not mean that it was probable. Herein the VA does not deny the possibility of the nexus but refuses the likelihood that it happened because no scientific evidence exists. The “biologically plausible” claim has been the VA’s standard response on this issue.
Here is an example of a Veterans Law Judge citing VBA Fast Letter 211 (04-13) in a veteran-claimants appeal.
“Even if the Board accepts that the Veteran received immunizations with an air gun in service, injections by air gun are not a recognized risk factor for hepatitis C based on the available scientific data. See VBA Fast Letter 211 (04-13). While VBA acknowledges that it is biologically plausible that the disease could be transmitted via air gun, the fact that such transmission is within the realm of possibility does not make transmission by this method probable or help establish that the Veteran in fact contracted hepatitis C in this manner particularly in the absence of a medical opinion that includes a full discussion of all modes of transmission, and a rationale as to why the examiner believes the air gun was the source of the Veteran’s hepatitis C” (BVA Case # 1342110).
The Department of Veterans Affairs purports most often veterans come to acquire hepatitis C due to their own willful misconduct such as alcohol abuse, intravenous drug use, tattooing, or risky sexual behavior. Consequently, by these actions the VA is ostracizing veterans. Yet veterans argue they have not all engaged in such devious behavior and do not conform to the stereotypes that have plagued Vietnam era veterans for the past four decades.
Veterans have been relentless in their pursuit for justice, and rightfully so. Under the Basic Entitlement Law, Title 38 of the U.S.C.S. subsection 1110, veterans are entitled to benefits for any personal injury or disease sustained while in the line of his or her military duty. The Basic Entitlement Law was reiterated by the Supreme Court of the United States in Shinseki v. Sanders, where the High Court perspicuously stated, “the law entitles veterans who have served on active duty in the United States military to receive benefits for disabilities caused or aggravated by their military service” (Shinseki, 487 F. 3d 881). Moreover, the mission statement of the VA, before being recently changed, upheld this point by declaring, “Our department’s employees continue to offer their dedication and commitment to help veterans get the services they have earned. Our nation’s veterans deserve no less.”
The VA benefits would not only include additional medical treatments, afforded only to those veterans with established service-connection claims, but a monthly benefit to help alleviate the financial burdens imposed by the disability. The current staggering costs of new and promising hepatitis C medicines, at $1,000 a pill, leaves most veterans deprived of treatment.
The monetary compensation from the VA benefits would be nice for when hepatitis C further disables, and in some cases decimates, the veteran’s body and he or she can no longer work. Although for veterans, and the families of those veterans now deceased, it really is not about about the money. It is about the government taking accountability for it’s negligence. It is about giving dignity and respect to the men and women who risked their lives in defending our nation and our way of life.
After my father lost his battle with hepatitis C, my family respectfully moved the battle to the VA and subsequently to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals courtroom and appealed the VA’s decision. For my family, the case was never about money. My father was an incredible man and no amount of money could ever replace him. Rather my family’s claim was about finding solace in knowing that our beloved family member did not die rejected and neglected by the country he served and so dearly loved.
Ultimately, my father’s case against the inoculating devices with point-less ends proved non-pointless. After a tumultuous five year battle, after hurdling through the rigamarole and iniquity, we won and received justice for my father. Today the VA acknowledges that my father’s death is etiologically related to his hepatitis C and that he, at least as likely as not, acquired hepatitis C from jet injector vaccinations in his military service as he had no other risk factors. Although, my father’s case has not been the only victory.
- (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2005) Department of Veterans Affairs. Hepatitis C Resource Centers: Frequently Asked Questions. September 22, 2005. Accessed May 21st, 2015 http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/faqs/air-gun-vaccinations.asp.
- (Dominitz et al., 2005) Dominitz JA, Boyko EJ, Koepsell TD, Heagerty PJ, Maynard C, Sporleder JL, Stenhouse A, Kling MA, Hrushesky W, Zeilman C, Sontag S, Shah N, Ona F, Anand B, Subik M, Imperiale TF, Nakhle S, Ho SB, Bini EJ, Lockhart B, Ahmad J, Sasaki A, van der Linden B, Toro D, Martinez-Souss J, Huilgol V, Eisen S, Young KA. Elevated prevalence of hepatitis C infection in users of United States veterans medical centers. Hepatology. 2005 Jan;41(1):88-96.
- (Shinseki, 487 F. 3d 881) Shinseki v. Sanders. Supreme Court of the United States. 2009.
- (VBA Fast Letter 211 (04-13)) VBA Fast Letter 211 (04-13). Relationship Between Immunization with Jet Injectors and Hepatitis C Infection as it Relates to Service Connection, Veterans Benefit Admin. (VBA) Fast Letter No. 04-13, 211 (April 29, 2004).