|If they added the names of all the Vietnam veterans who died by suicide after the war, I wonder how much bigger the Wall would have to be?
"As a 19-year-old infantry soldier in 1971, Army Specialist McGough was with members of his unit near the Laotian border when came under fire. A grenade exploded nearby, tearing apart his feet and lower legs. McGough was taken by medevac to Okinawa, where he underwent surgery, including a transfusion to replace the blood he had lost. Unable to wear army boots after the injury, he was shipped back to the United States, where he married his high school sweetheart, Sheryl Isaacson. They settled down near their hometown of Fort Dodge, Iowa.
Twenty years passed before McGough, who worked in magazine advertising sales, learned that he had hepatitis C, a bloodborne viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause scarring, called cirrhosis, as well as liver cancer. The virus only was discovered in 1989, and routine testing of the blood supply began shortly afterward. It was about that time that McGough, a regular blood donor, learned he had been infected. He'd never used intravenous drug or gotten tattoos — common routes of infection — so the McGoughs figured Jim must have contracted the virus when he had the blood transfusion in Japan.
Veterans are more than twice as likely to have hepatitis C as members of the general population, studies have found. The virus is significantly more common among Vietnam era veterans than those of any other service era.
McGough went to a liver specialist, who found no damage. The standard treatment at the time, a combination of the drugs interferon and ribavirin, had debilitating side effects. So Jim and Sheryl decided not to do anything about his infection.
"We were having a great time," says Sheryl, now 62. "We're going, 'No big deal.' When you're young, you're invincible."
But in his late 40s, Jim started to show signs of liver damage. About that time, he and Sheryl took a trip to the nation's capital, and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He thought it was magnificent, Sheryl remembers, and told her, "If this thing kills me, I want to get my name added."
In January 2014, the virus did kill him. Jim had gone through the interferon treatment by then, but couldn't shake the disease. He finally succumbed to liver cancer."