Blood donations are essential to everyone’s health and a great way to give back to the community. While veterans, in particular, know about the importance of blood donations, many of them have not been able to donate for decades.
Individuals who spent more than three months in many European countries between Jan. 1, 1980 – Dec. 31, 1996, were excluded from donating blood due to an outbreak of mad cow disease during this time.
This exemption also included veterans who used to serve on any military bases in Europe during these periods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was substantial evidence of the risk of developing the fatal brain disease variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, also known as vCJD, after eating nerve tissue of cattle infected with mad-cow-disease.
“It is a protein-based disease vector that could potentially be transferred through a blood donation,” said Capt. Lowell Listerud, director of the Fort Hood Robertson Blood Center. “Not having any sort of vaccination or antibiotic or any sort of a treatment that is able to eradicate or alleviate that disease became an issue for blood donors who lived over in Europe during those time periods.”
According to Listerud, vCJD could progress slowly and over a long time with sometimes hard to detect symptoms.
“In order to protect people that were receiving blood product, they didn’t want to have anybody who could potentially have been exposed to that,” he said.
However, a recent policy change is now giving veterans the green light to donate after decades of not being able to do so stateside.
Duty stations, including countries like Germany, are no longer on the deferment list.
“There’s been a couple of reasons for the change,” Listerud said.
One of the reasons is the amount of time that has elapsed since the outbreaks in Europe.
The COVID-19-related drop in blood supply and the continuing shortage in blood donations turned blood donations into a pressing issue.
In March, the My Army Benefits website reported that the Robertson Blood Center should be receiving more than 500 blood donations weekly to help save 1,500 lives of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. However, only five to 15 donations were received weekly, which was only enough to help between 15-45 service members.
“The Army blood program took a look at that particular pathogen … and made a determination along with medical professionals to make the decision to remove it from the deferral list,” Listerud said.
The news of being able to donate blood again was something many veterans were happy to hear.
Listerud said an uptick in veteran donations is already clearly visible.
“A husband and wife that both had been deferred for years for exactly their time in Europe have come in, and both have been taken off of the deferral list,” he said. “Both of them went through a successful donation.”
However, there is still a massive shortage of blood donations in Central Texas.
“We are on an increase, but it is kind of a slower increase,” Listerud said. “It’s kind of matching as COVID restrictions are lifting, and people are returning to a more normal, pre-pandemic routine.”
While blood donations are not necessarily the first thing on one’s mind when thinking of saving a life, they do precisely that.
According to the American Red Cross website, every two seconds a patient within the U.S. needs blood transfusions. Reasons reach from essential surgeries and cancer treatment to chronic illnesses and traumatic injuries.
“We’re always very grateful to all the donors who come into our center,” he said. “The best way to prepare is to make an appointment.”
Interested donors can schedule an appointment by calling the Robertson Blood Center at 254-285-5808 and should expect to spend about an hour at the center.
The Robertson Blood Center is located at 2250 W 761st Tank Battalion Ave, Fort Hood.
The Talecris Plasma Resources, 908 S. Fort Hood St. in Killeen, is also open for blood donations.
“Beginning to end, we ask people to reserve about an hour of their time,” Listerud said. “The process doesn’t necessarily take that long, but sometimes the interviews can take a little bit of extra time.”