(SWARTZ CREEK, Michigan - October 15, 2009) — A Gulf War veteran who lives in Swartz Creek said he is “deeply saddened” by Thursday’s federal court ruling that sides with the government in a lawsuit over his family’s claims that the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to diagnose an illness that spread to his wife and two children.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said there is insufficient evidence that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs should have known that Arvid Brown Jr. had symptoms of the parasitic disease leishmaniasis after serving in Saudi Arabia in 1991.
Because of that, the three-judge panel said, the VA cannot be held liable for failing to warn that the disease might spread to Brown’s family. The decision affirmed a ruling by a federal judge in Detroit last year.
Brown, who learned of the decision Thursday afternoon when contacted by The Flint Journal, said he does not know what he will do next until he confers with his attorney, Robert P. Walsh of Battle Creek.
“I’m really disappointed in the court system, and these judges, it really doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “I’m deeply saddened. They regurgitate the same thing the VA does, that I’m a lazy, good-for-nothing who doesn’t want to work and wants to live off the government dole. This is no picnic.”
The court “just continues the pervasive and ongoing effort of the Department of Veterans Affairs to ignore those who have been injured in the first Gulf War,” Walsh said.
A VA representative did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Leishmaniasis (pronounced LEASH’-ma-NYE’-a-sis) is spread by the bite of infected sand flies. Symptoms include weight loss, fever and an enlarged liver.
For seven years, Brown received medical care from the VA for various problems, but blood tests were negative for leishmaniasis.
Private tests, however, revealed a different result.
“The VA was telling me it’s all in my head, that I’m nuts, that I’m a liar and a thief, despite all my decorations and what I did over there,” he said.
Brown’s wife, Janyce, and two children were plaintiffs in a lawsuit that sought millions of dollars. It said leishmaniasis was passed to Brown’s wife through sexual contact and then again to the children before their birth.
During the litigation, Janyce Brown died of liver cancer in 2005, although there was no definite link to leishmaniasis.
“Now it’s just me and my two children.” Brown said. “It’s hard being a single parent, but harder with two autistic children.”
He said his son, 14, is constantly agitated, anxious and suffers from depression. His daughter, 12, functions at the level of a 2-year-old, he said.
“She’s non-verbal,” he said. “She has never spoken and likely never will. She’s incontinent and requires 24/7 care.”
Brown said the impact of the court’s decision goes beyond his family.
“Not only is this a loss for me, it’s a loss for a lot of Persian Gulf War vets,” Brown said.