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Thirty Years of HIV/AIDS: Perspective from Patrick, a Veteran

for Health Care Providers

Perspective from Patrick, a Veteran

I am a Vietnam Veteran who had undiagnosed PTSD for 28 years. I remember when I had my first positive HIV test (ELISA) and they asked me to have a Western blot. That confirmed the ELISA result (probably 1987) and it seemed a death sentence.

I went through the usual regimens: AZT first, later adding ddI, always hoping for a cure. Then I hit the efficacy wall and was withdrawn from those medications.

My health seemed to stabilize for a while. But in early 1996, a few weeks after I began the new regimen of a 3-drug cocktail, I thought I had contracted the flu, but it didn't improve and I was admitted to the ICU with Pneumocystis pneumonia, having a T-cell count of 60, viral load of 1.6 million copies/mL, and blood oxygen level of 43%. It took me 6 months to recover.

My insurance expired.

It was then I became involved in the VA. I had heard bad things about the VA, but I had nowhere else to go; my brother, another Vietnam Veteran, went there for help in the 1970s and was told to just get on with his life. I had no insurance. I had to go.

I was helped without question and received the best care. My primary care provider, it turned out, was an infectious disease specialist and we had conversations about my care in and out of the VA. I am one of the lucky people with HIV, as my body tolerates medications with minimal problems.

In 1999, I thought I was getting ill again and decided to apply for Social Security Disability. I was told that I first had to apply with the VA for Non-Service-Connected Disability. A Veteran Service Officer at a Vet Center referred me to them in addition to providing his help. We worked together to identify and treat my PTSD.

During this time, my counselor showed me a flyer asking for volunteers to serve on a committee to advise the VA on ways of improving HIV treatment. I wanted to give back to the VA, and I applied. I was accepted, and at my first meeting in 2000, discovered that I had a voice, that someone of authority would listen to what I had to say. This was an empowering experience that led to many positive changes in my life and eventually to earning a Master's Degree at age 54. I now work for the VA helping other Veterans.