Time to Provide Vietnam Veterans Care They Deserve Regarding Liver Fluke
Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin
America’s Vietnam veterans served our nation honorably under the most trying conditions. For approximately half a century, so many of these veterans have suffered the physical, mental and emotional toll of their tours in Vietnam. One of the most serious effects among Vietnam veterans, which does not get enough attention, is the prevalence of liver fluke.
Preliminary reports suggest that some Vietnam veterans who ate raw or undercooked freshwater fish during their service in Southeast Asia could be carrying the dormant parasite, Platyhelminthes, commonly referred to as “liver fluke”. In several instances, liver fluke has led to the contraction of very serious, life threatening health conditions such as bile duct cancer and liver disease.
In 2018, the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport, New York, conducted a first-of-its-kind study of liver fluke in the United States using a 50 veteran sample size. While the sample size for the study was admittedly smaller than most studies, initial results highlight a substantial need for a greater study of this issue, the development of standardized treatment options, and broader accessibility of care for veterans at VA facilities across the United States.
That is why I introduced H.R. 1273 - the Vietnam Veterans Liver Fluke Cancer Study Act. This bipartisan legislation works to require the VA, in conjunction with the CDC, to conduct a study to determine the prevalence of liver fluke amongst the Vietnam veteran population. Countless Vietnam veterans are suffering from the effects of liver fluke, presumably from their time serving overseas. These veterans are not receiving the care they need and deserve from the VA because it does not have enough research and evidence to prove that liver fluke in these veterans resulted from their service in Vietnam. This study will equip the VA with the tools needed to properly research liver fluke in Vietnam veterans and designate it as a service-connected condition.
Additionally, in 2016, the VA launched two studies, the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study (VE-HEROeS) and Vietnam Era Veterans Mortality Study, to examine possible correlations between service in Vietnam and certain health conditions, including effects of the liver fluke parasite. These studies were due to be completed in 2020 but were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In February, I reached out to VA Secretary Denis McDonough and urged him to prioritize the completion of these studies, so that Vietnam veterans can begin receiving the treatments they need for medical issues related to their service.
Our nation’s veterans have earned nothing less than the highest quality care, and it is our responsibility as a nation to develop a plan, secure funding to test all veterans whose service exposed them to liver fluke, and if necessary, provide appropriate care, and do so as soon as possible. That’s why I continue to fight on behalf of these very veterans by introducing legislation that will make this long-overdue study of liver fluke a reality and will pave the way for infected veterans to receive the treatment they have earned.
If you, or a loved one, are a Vietnam veteran who has suffered the effects of liver fluke and are willing to share your story, please click here to take my survey to help spread the word about liver fluke and ensure that Vietnam veterans are able to obtain the care they have earned from the VA. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office if we can be of any assistance in helping you obtain services from the VA.
Congressman Lee Zeldin represents New York’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.