A Plan for Suffering AIDS Veterans?

John Voelcker writes in the Huffington Post about Spencer Cox, the AIDS activist who died last month at 44, and Cox's onetime proposal for an organization called Medius Institute for Gay Men's Health which would improve the "health, well-being and longevity of gay men in mid-life," specifically those who lived through the AIDS epidemic.

Writes Voelcker:

We hear a lot about "wounded warriors" with regard to American military battles overseas, and and justifiably so. It's devastating for young men and women to watch as trusted comrades are grievously hurt or killed at their side. It's equally devastating to return to a society that honors veterans for a day, then expects them to act "normal" and resume life as the same people they were before the war. While the life-long disabilities they suffer may be politely overlooked, it's clear that they're expected to shield the memories, losses and fears brought back from the battlefield.

But for military veterans, there's a $140-billion Veteran's Administration to thank them, care for them and minister to their needs. The veterans of our own war here at home aren't so lucky.

There are the hundreds of thousands of men and women who survived the worst of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and 1990s. They are the wounded warriors of our fight. And they have no such support — especially those who've lived with HIV for 15 years or more. Whether HIV-positive or negative, many of them suffer what would likely be defined as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their rates of dysthymia and depression are higher, they may engage in unsafe sex, and a few of those with HIV inexplicably stop taking the lifesaving anti-retroviral medications that saved their lives 15 years ago. Men who know the rules of safe sex may test positive after staying negative for three decades.

Is it time to resurrect the idea of such an organization?

Voelcker's full piece here.


  1. says

    i hate talking about this because it seems bitter, but i can’t help but think that there’s an important lesson to be learned from all of this: there’s a serious issue with meth abuse that is decimating the livelihood and lives of members in our communities. when one has access to the best available healthcare, and treatments and medications and trades them in for “Tina” (barf) …well….why is this not being discussed?

    this man did incredible work and for some reason(s) threw away all he had achieved. meth dealers should be shot on the spot.

  2. Steve B says

    to compare military veterans who have PTSD to people who “survived” the HIV crisis is honestly …extremely sickening. they are not similar at all, and this writing wouldn’t convince anyone with actual power. veterans chose to serve our country (regardless of whether the wars were right or not), while the HIV crisis came about from people hooking up and doing drugs.

  3. KT says

    Littlekiwi, I think he threw everything away because he lived through an era where thousands of men died, including dozens of his friends. He lived through the worst of the crisis and emerged on the other side – where many in the community are ignorant of the harm the disease can still cause, where mental health issues are pushed aside, where safe sex is being ignored and where HIV infections are still pretty high. Depression is a horrible disease as well and choosing meth was a result. Its sad and it happens all the time. But instead of blaming the meth, I think we need to look at what drove him to make those choices. (Not to say I condone meth use; far from it. I just think there where many factors involved that let to him choosing meth).

  4. says

    oh no, KT, i’m in full agreement with you. FULL.

    depression. enablers. factors. solutions.

    the reality is that even though this man lost so many close to him, he was in a place where he could have kept on living.

    but i do heartily agree with what you wrote.

  5. KT says

    Littlekiwi, I think I might have misread your original comment. I see we are both on the same page. Sorry about that!

  6. QueensNYGuy says

    @STEVE B: A very unfair and ungenerous thing to say. And you completely missed the point of what is being written.

    To accuse every person who suffered and succumbed to HIV/AIDs (gay, straight, black, white, young and old) as somehow responsible for their plight, that it was all due to “bad choices” and “from people hooking up and doing drugs” is enough to guarantee that if I would ever meet you in person, you would have to chew your next meal sitting on your dinner plate because that’s how far down your throat I’d shove your teeth with my fist.

    As someone who did survive the trauma of the “AIDs Wars”, who took care of some very dear friends and a few people I didn’t know well at the onset and during the two decades before there was actually medicine available to help combat the ravages of AIDs (and even up to last December 2012, when my best friend succumbed to AIDs after many years of struggle (contracted from a blood transfusion, by the way)), I resent outright such scurrilous and slanderous accusations.

    It WAS traumatic. It WAS horrific. It WAS emotionally, physically and spiritually draining. It WAS conducive to despair and frustration and anxiety and depression and shock.

    You simply CANNOT imagine then what it was like. You CANNOT imagine how indifferent, how callous, how repugnant the medical, civil and political establishment was in the early years of the epidemic. And how, even today, especially reading your idiotic statement, some people still are as clueless and cold-blooded as ever.

    And, for the record, you despicable horse’s ass, I AM a veteran of the Vietnam War and I KNOW what combat is and I KNOW what combat trauma is and I KNOW what PTSD is and how it feels. Let me tell you, son, the symptoms derived from having dealt with people dying right and left and the sense of hopelessness and fear and frustration and shock during these past years is NO DIFFERENT than what it is, or was, post-combat.

    Consider your self lucky that you’ve not had to experience either one.

    So, listen up, butt-boy. Until you get some real-life experience under your pansy-ass belt, I’d suggest you shut your pie-hole about things you know nothing about.

    In short, Go. To. Hell.

  7. unruly says

    No. Proper medical care, yes (including care for depression) but let’s not relate this to an actual war. It is a disease and these are not veterans. A lot of people have gone through horrific things and should be cared for medically with equal value.

  8. Brian says

    We have governemnt funded programs operating in Ontario especially for people who are long-term survivors. “Survive and Thrive” is one such put on by the AIDS Bereavement Project of Ontario.

    You should also check out their Multiple Loss Grief Model which was designed by looking at the early and dramatic losses we faced in the early years.

    If anyone really lived through and was a part of the early years of HIV, they would know that battle/war metaphors aren’t that far off.

  9. stephen lucas says

    The problem with the male-male social scene is that there is a huge meth problem and a huge promiscuity problem. Drugs give men permission to do things they would not normally do sexualilty-wise. They ratchet up the promiscuity factor.

    It is pointless talking about wounded warriors unless we tend to the wound at the heart of the gay male community – drugs and promiscuity.

  10. says

    well, the “wound” isn’t drugs and promiscuity, troll.

    it’s depression, sadness, low sense of self-worth, hopelessness, fatigue, and emptiness.

  11. Marty says

    I think a lot of people want to romanticize and then victimcize the 70’s and 80’s as if nobody else knew what really went on. Anyone who is honesty will tell of the drugs, sex, bathhouses, promiscuity and all that went with it. Yes, the fallout was hideous, but don’t be disingenuous about a history that everyone knows all too well, and one that is still going on presently. Own it.

  12. stephen lucas says


    Where do you think depression comes from? It’s the down side of meth use. Yes, I would feel pretty empty if I allowed myself to get caught in the vicious cycle of drug use and promiscuity.

  13. Sean says

    I agree with Steveb.

    Not to be insensitive to those with HIV/AIDS, but to call them “veterans” and compare them to people who served in wars in ABSURD.

    Yes, lets get care and support for those with HIV, but find another angle. This is NOT it.

  14. says

    Stephen Lucas, yes. a troll by any other name doth smell as foul.

    you have it in reverse. which you would.

    don’t worry. you couldn’t be promiscuous if you tried.

  15. Booka says

    I’m with “QueensNYGUY”…and No “Sean” it is not absurd. Having to listen to another invalidation or making less of watching your Lover and friends die in the most horrific way imaginable…that is absurd.

  16. Kenneth says

    I can only begrudgingly give the naysayers here a benefit of doubt. I doubt they are old enough or educated enough to know of what they speak. For those of us who have lived through the early days of HIV/AIDS, war and battle are very apt terms. Regardless of factors which more than likely hastened the spread of the disease, you cannot use the same standard of “judgement” you might now. No one then knew what the disease was, how it was spread, only that it killed – quickly, viciously and abundantly. It was a battle against unseen forces, while the government, peers, and even healthcare workers shunned those afflicted. Yes, it was a battle.
    And long term survivors, those who managed to avoid infection while caring for and burying friends and lovers and often strangers, activists who stood up and fought for answers, solutions, and dignity are the veterans of that war. Sadly, the battle is not over, as stories like this and more than a few of the comments here indicate.