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AIDS Day event held at VA Medical Center

A former military member who now lives at the center talked about living with HIV during the event.

A former military member who now lives at the center talked about living with HIV during the event.

December 02, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The conclusion of the World AIDS Day Observance in Martinsburg took an unexpected turn Sunday when Chevy Brooks took the microphone.

Brooks came to the front of the room inside the Veterans Affairs Medical Center when organizers asked if there was anyone else in the audience who wanted to say something.

Brooks stepped to the podium to talk about his life with the HIV.

Brooks said he has been living with HIV for 15 years, and he remembers the reaction he got in the military after he learned he had the virus.

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Brooks said he was removed from his elite unit, the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne.

"We were not fit for duty, as they claim," said Brooks, adding that people with the virus can now remain in the military if they are healthy.

"The education has gotten better, but the fear has not gone away," Brooks said.

Part of the discussion Sunday was about the fear people had of AIDS and the lack of information they had about the disease when it first became a public health threat.

HIV is a virus that can establish infection in the body and lead to AIDS.

Brooks is a tall, fit-looking man. He said he feels healthy, and wants people to know there is medicine and support for people who have the virus.

"I have to take a stand," Brooks said. "It doesn't need to be the thing that takes you out, unless you allow it to."

Brooks said he has worked to help people with the virus, including time he gave to support groups in the Washington, D.C., area. Brooks is from New Orleans but now lives at the VA center along W.Va. 9 just east of Martinsburg.

"I got numb from going to five to six funerals a week," Brooks said. "I didn't think I would see 1990, let alone 2000. You should be thankful for each and every day you wake up."

The observance at the hospital was one of thousands held around the world Sunday to bring awareness to AIDS and the people it affects.

An estimated 21 million people have died from AIDS worldwide and an estimated 40,000 Americans contract HIV each year.

Glenna Allison, case manager for the local AIDS Network, recalled the hundreds of people she has met through her years of work, some of whom have died.

"But they're still a part of my heart. I remember them," Allison said.

The AIDS Network offers treatment and support to local AIDS patients.

It is estimated there are more than 100 AIDS patients in an eight-county area. Most of the AIDS cases are in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, AIDS Network officials said.

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