The suit, filed in a federal court on Tuesday, detailed that the South Carolina-based veteran dubbed “John Doe” was not officially diagnosed as HIV-positive until he was hospitalized in 2018 and told by New York doctors that the virus had advanced to “full-blown AIDS.”
The veteran’s HIV-positive status was hinted at by a doctor who was reviewing the retired sailor’s case notes in December 2015. However, the doctor did not diagnose Doe with HIV, only suggesting that he have another test done. It’s not clear whether he did.
“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 unnamed doctor claimed in court documents observed by major South Carolina newspaper The State.
While the veteran was long unaware of his positive status, his legal team asserts medical staff at the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) William Jennings Bryan Dorn Medical Center knew Doe was HIV-positive since November 1995, but failed to provide him with this life-changing information.
“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,” read the filing.
“In clear contravention of the standard of care, Mr. Doe was not informed of the positive HIV test until decades later.”
“The treatment he's getting now is effective, but he’s had essentially 25 years of wear and tear for having no treatment," Chad McGowan, the veteran’s lawyer, explained to the Associated Press. “He feels extremely guilty about the girlfriends he’s had over the last 25 years because he didn’t know.”
The veteran has reportedly developed post-traumatic stress disorder over the situation. This diagnosis comes alongside a brain infection and weakened immune system, placing the veteran in the “high risk” category for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.
McGowan expressed that delays in biopsies are somewhat common upon detection of a disease, “but nothing where there’s a 25-year delay.”
“In my experience working with patients like Mr. Doe, the VA has so many providers that come and go, that they try to have some continuity of care, but stuff falls through the cracks all time,” he said. “Communication issues, I believe. Sort of like it gets pushed down in the file and nobody looks.”
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, but requests that the total be dependent on a jury decision. The VA has not yet commented on the allegations, but agency spokesperson Marlous Black confirmed via email to AP the matter was associated with “pending litigation.”