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Our 2003 letter to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

This is our letter to Secretary Anthony Principi of the VA on August 15, 2003. You will notice that it includes complete contact information for T/Sgt Michael Chechak by his own request. If you are a veteran who served with Mike, he would like to hear from you.

To contact Secretary Principi, send a letter to:

The Honorable Anthony Principi
Secretary
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Please let him know how important it is that veterans are informed about Valley Fever, that Representative Franks should have the VA’s support to fight this disease with national security funding, and that T/Sgt Chechak deserves to be given full disability payments.

Our letter follows.

Dear Secretary Principi:

I am the co-author of an upcoming book about coccidioidomycosis, an incurable disease commonly known as Valley Fever.  This disease is caused by the inhalation of Coccidioides immitis, an airborne fungus that is a naturally occurring biohazard.  Valley Fever infects nearly 200,000 Americans each year in the southwest based on an estimated 3% annual infection rate for people in endemic areas.  Since everyone has to breathe, it is contracted easily.  The Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Arizona has informed us of cases where it was contracted by breathing air while changing planes in the Phoenix airport, by receiving a potted plant by mail that had C. immitis in the soil, and other similarly innocent ways.

This disease’s effects on the military were studied extensively during World War II when the Army Air Corps trained in California’s San Joaquin Valley and over 3,000 soldiers fell ill.  Valley Fever affects our military even now, as there are 350,000 soldiers deployed in endemic areas.  C. immitis spores have also been studied as a race-specific agent of biological warfare because African-Americans and Filipinos have higher death rates from Valley Fever and frequently suffer more severe infections.

Population trends show that senior citizens are flocking to the Southwest, especially Arizona.  Retired veterans should be aware of the terrible irony that senior citizens are encouraged to come to retirement communities and “health spas” where they are led to believe the desert’s hot, dry air can benefit their health and alleviate problems like arthritis.  Sadly, rheumatism is actually a symptom of this disease.  Valley Fever can cause problems immediately.  The fungal parasitic infection can also be asymptomatic in 60% of those infected, but can activate years later as pneumonia, meningitis, and in abscesses that can destroy a person’s bones and virtually any organ -- including the brain.

Valley Fever’s varied symptoms lead to frequent misdiagnoses.  Its worst cases can be crippling or fatal but it is estimated that as few as 1.3% of all cocci cases are actually diagnosed (Barnato, et al.  Cost-effectiveness of a potential vaccine for Coccidioides immitis.  EID 2001 Sep-Oct;7(5)).  This estimate suggests an alarming ignorance or disregard by the medical community and that reactivations and chronic cases have a devastating and unchecked toll on Americans’ health.  The CDC’s information on Valley Fever is woefully inadequate, outdated, and misleading.  Through peer-reviewed journals, medical documents, and organizations like Arizona’s Valley Fever Center for Excellence, we have discovered it is a major hazard to national security in general and our veterans in particular.  Any veteran who served or trained in an endemic area needs to be aware of this ailment as it can activate at any time to debilitate or kill them.  Patients must be educated to raise the possibility of this disease if their doctors are unaware of it.

C. immitis is so dangerous that it is regulated in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002.  Valley Fever was identified as a major national security problem in World War II when thousands of training soldiers were infected and sickened.  To reduce the possibilities of infection, soldiers could be court martialed if they went to areas of the base where dust control measures were not in place (Fiese, Coccidioidomycosis 1958 p81).  Unfortunately, even these measures are not completely effective and some military deployments actually may cause a higher infection rate.  This was the case when 45% of a training SEAL team was infected in 2002.

Although it is terrible enough that soldiers and civilians alike in America are subjected to this pathogen without their knowledge or consent, our historical research uncovered even more shocking information.  During World War II, captured Nazis were held in Arizona and shortly became infected with Valley Fever.  Nazi Germany invoked the Geneva Convention and America moved the prisoners to another location.  Nazi prisoners were treated with higher regard than Americans are.

Contrast the risk of court martial and consideration of the Geneva Convention for the benefit of Nazi prisoners with the way our own people are presently treated by being subjected to this disease without warning.

Please visit our web site at http://www.valleyfeversurvivor.com and view the Facts page so you can quickly be brought up-to-date on the dangers.  Since so little information about this disease has been given to the general public I will share all this information and more in my upcoming book.  I intend to lobby the endemic states and the federal government to make sure everyone is made aware of this disease.  Veterans deserve the right to decide for themselves whether they are willing to risk their health to go into an endemic region for a vacation, retirement, education, or any other reason -- and if deployed in an endemic area, they need to know the possible consequences they can face now or later in life so they can raise the possibility with doctors in areas where this disease is not endemic.

The VA can help tremendously by supporting Representative Trent Franks in his effort to seek national security funding for research that may lead to a cure or vaccine for Valley Fever.  Also, all soldiers stationed, training, or passing through endemic areas should be informed about Valley Fever using the most accurate and up-to-date information.  Only through increased medical research and education can our soldiers’ health be safeguarded.

We have also been in contact with T/Sgt Michael Chechak (ret), a retired veteran who was infected with Valley Fever in the 1950’s when assigned to Williams AFB in Arizona.  The disease has nearly taken his life, but he has been unable to obtain the full disability payments he is due from the VA.  Doctors must be forced to recognize what this disease can do, and the VA must pay full disability to those who suffer as Mike has.  Even though some outdated medical texts refer to this as a benign disease, it is anything but benign.  T/Sgt Chechak can be contacted by phone at (850) 939-3250, his case number is 29-571-700, and he is just one of the thousands of veterans who need your help.  If not for his military service, he would never have contracted Valley Fever.  Please contact him as soon as possible so that he can achieve the full disability payments he rightly deserves for his decades of service to our country.  Mike’s situation is urgent and needs to be rectified immediately.  We would like you to oversee his case personally to ensure he receives the 100% disability payments that he is due.

I hope we can count on your support and begin a working relationship.  T/Sgt Chechak deserves full disability payments for his continued suffering with Valley Fever.  Representative Trent Franks needs help in his drive to increase funding for research under the banner of national security.  The VA can ensure all veterans serving in endemic areas are warned about this disease.  Valley Fever is currently recognized as an epidemic.  This is urgently important information.  For all that veterans have done to protect our country, we must treat them with the respect they deserve.

We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Sharon Filip, Founder
David Filip
www.valleyfeversurvivor.com


 
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