JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Employees at V.A. hospitals across the country is encouraged to come up with better ways to serve this country’s vets.

In fact, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald challenges those who work at these facilities to embrace the developing culture of innovation.

Jackson V.A. employees answered the call and are now seeing their ideas put into action including one who found a way to treat and likely cure those vets with Hepatitis C.

“Not everyone who has Hepatitis C got it through injecting drugs.  There is no shame in that.  It’s a medical problem but a lot of people feel there is a stigma with that. Most of us who treat Hepatitis C don’t feel that way.  We don’t know how you got it, just let us help you get rid of it,” said Dr. Mary Jane Burton, a Infectious Diseases Specialist, at the V.A. Medical Center in Jackson.

But to get rid of it, you have to find out who has it.

So Dr. Burton and her colleagues at the Jackson V.A. came up with a way to communicate with the medical team treating patients with addiction problems.

Her plan worked.

Last year, she screened 96 percent of veterans entering treatment for substance abuse, close to 280 people.

“We discovered about one in five had Hepatitis C and 25 percent of the cases that we discovered were brand new cases. Meaning the day they walked in to substance abuse disorder clinic, they did not know they were infected,” said Dr. Burton.

Untreated Hepatitis C can lead to serious liver disease, including Cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

According to the CDC, 15,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C related liver disease.

New advancements in treatment means most patients can take just one pill a day and the cure rate is very high.

“So we were able to diagnose the infection, but, we didn’t just diagnose the infection. We said, “This is the year that you can overcome your addiction and Hepatitis C at the same time because we are going to offer you both,” said Dr. Burton.

Dr. Burton and six other employees at our V.A. hospital were awarded grant money by the Department of Veterans Affairs for their innovative thinking that has made their workplace more effective.

The Atlanta V.A. Medical Center is now implementing Dr. Burton’s Hepatitis C screening program into their operation.