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Military families, civilians banned from blood donation now eligible under new rules

Denise Dietz, an ASC civilian employee, took advantage of the blood mobile parked outside of ASC Headquarters Nov. 4, and donated what is commonly referred to as “the gift of life.” Photo credit: Staci-Jill Burnley, ASC Public Affairs

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Rock Island, Ill. - While the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the focus of health care centered on trying to contain the rapid spread of the virus, the Veterans Administration announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted restrictions on certain military families and civilians previously banned from donating blood.

In a press release dated January 25, 2021, the VA reported the longstanding ban that prevented some 4.4 million veterans, service members and civilians stationed in certain parts of Europe between 1980 and 1996 from donating blood has been eliminated. The ban was meant to prevent transmission of a deadly brain disease, commonly known as "mad cow disease."

According to the VA, under the new guidelines, people who had been ineligible because they resided for six months or more on U.S. military bases in Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands between 1980 and 1990, or on bases in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and Italy between 1980 and 1996, may now be eligible.

The deferral, however, is still in place for past or recent residency or travel in some European countries. For instance, FDA guidelines do not permit donation by individuals who have spent three months or more cumulatively in the United Kingdom from 1980 to 1996.

These changes open up a large pool of potential donors on military installations and in their surrounding communities. ImpactLife (formerly Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center) serves more than 125 hospitals in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, and collects blood at 20 fixed site donor centers and at more than 5,000 mobile blood drives held each year. They are also a primary provider for blood donations in the Rock Island Arsenal and Quad Cities areas of Illinois and Iowa.

"Both nationally and here, within this region, we are experiencing an urgent need for blood to prevent shortages for patients and hospitals," said Beth Hancock, ImpactLife donor relations consultant in Davenport, Iowa.

Within the ImpactLife service region, they strive to collect an average of 3,600 donations on a weekly basis. In recent weeks, however, the donation rate has ranged from 2,500 to 2,800 donations per week. Christmas and New Year's holidays, as well as winter weather and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have combined to decrease the rate of donation, according to Hancock.

"Currently, most blood products and types we have available are less than a three-day supply," she said. "We have a critical need for all donations and blood types, especially Type O and AB, and all blood types for platelets."

Additionally, two national blood donation centers list donor eligibility details on their websites: Vitalant and the American Red Cross. Vitalant welcomes donors to call their medical help desk to speak to a registered nurse about eligibility at (412) 209-7035. The American Red Cross can be reached at (866) 236-3276 to discuss any eligibility concerns.

The Army encourages its employees to volunteer as candidates for any of the variety of medical donor programs, including blood, bone marrow, and organ donor/transplant programs. Civilian employees can receive up to four (4) hours of administrative leave to donate blood. Donors are required to fill out a leave request, obtain supervisory permission and provide documentation of the donation.

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