VA Didn't Tell SC Veteran About HIV Diagnosis for 20 Years, Lawsuit Says

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William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina.
William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. (Department of Veterans Affairs image)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A South Carolina veteran is suing the Department of Veterans Affairs after he says VA doctors failed to inform him for more than 20 years that he was HIV positive.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court on Tuesday, the Navy veteran living in Richland County claims medical staff at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA center in Columbia failed to inform him an HIV test he took in 1995 came back positive, allowing the disease to progress untreated for decades.

The veteran -- identified only as "John Doe" in court filings in order to protect his medical privacy -- said he's sought treatment at the VA since a shipwreck in 1976 left him with mental and physical injuries.

Medical records at Dorn, included in the suit, record the veteran's positive HIV test in documents from November 1995, but he claims he was never informed of the results, even as subsequent files note the test results.

"The VA had actual knowledge beginning in November 1995 that Mr. Doe was HIV positive and the standard of care required he be informed of the positive test and proper treatment begin in 1995," the suit filed by Rock Hill firm McGowan, Hood and Felder reads. "In clear contravention of the standard of care, Mr. Doe was not informed of the positive HIV test until decades later."

Dorn VA's medical director said the agency is unable to comment on pending litigation.

The first time the man was informed of the diagnosis was December 2015, when a doctor casually mentioned it in a conversation recorded in his own case notes.

"I looked at the patient and ask (sic) him who was his infectious disease doctor, and patient states (he) did not have one and (I) ask (sic) him if he knew that his HIV test was positive, and he stated (he) never was told it was positive," the doctor wrote, according to the suit.

At that point, the doctor suggested the patient have another HIV test performed. The lawsuit doesn't indicate if the man had another test done.

The veteran was only definitely diagnosed and given access to antiretroviral therapy after he was hospitalized in a non-VA facility in New York in 2018. By that time, the disease had advanced to full-blown AIDS and permanently affected the patient's health and immune system, the lawsuit claims.

If he had been informed of his diagnosis at the time, the lawsuit claims, "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 suit requests an unspecified amount of punitive damages, to be determined by a jury. 

This article is written by Bristow Marchant from The State and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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