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Soldier has suffered seizures, headaches since anthrax shots

Bulletin Staff Writer

For the past six years, Spc. Catherine Young has served her country. Now, she feels problems she has had since taking mandatory anthrax vaccinations are being "swept under the carpet."

Young grew up in Mountain Home, and her parents Jack and Bertha Benton, and brother, Walter Poe, still live here. Young left Mountain Home in 1992 and joined the U.S. Army in 1993. After her four-year term -- one year in Korea and three at Fort Sill, Okla. -- she began civilian life, ending up in Nashville, Tenn.

"I realized how much I missed the discipline and family that military troops have," Young said. "In February 2001, I decided to join the Tennessee National Guard." The rest of her unit has gotten to return to Nashville, and an official homecoming ceremony was held Sunday to welcome them back. Although Young took part in the ceremony, she is still waiting for her homecoming. Shortly after 9-11, she volunteered for a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and spent 6 1/2 months there doing supply missions and guard duty. "After my tour, I chose to go inactive National Guard," she said. On Feb. 9, 2003, her unit, the 173rd Personnel Services Detachment, was activated. "At the time of our activation, every military post was overwhelmed with troops, so my unit was sent to Fort Rucker, Ala.," she said, adding that Fort Rucker is not a mobilization station.

There, the troops were ordered to take anthrax and smallpox shots. After her first anthrax shot, Young asked that she not be required to take the remaining shots. "I was then given a direct order to take the next five shots," she said. "On May 5, I received my smallpox shot, and on May 6, I received my second anthrax shot." She immediately began suffering severe headaches that sent her to Lyster Army Hospital several times. Only then was she given medical exemption from the remaining shots. She had a CT scan and several blood tests. On April 20, 2003, still under medical care, she was deployed with her unit to Kuwait. She had been given Loritab at a 10 mg. dosage to keep her headaches under control.

"While deployed to Kuwait, I went, on several occasions, to the field hospital for my headaches because my medication quit working," Young said. When she found no relief at the hospital, she self-increased her Loritab dosage.

Over the next five months, she increased to 30 or 40 mg. at a time. When she finally got to see Col. Holly Dayne, Dayne asked her how many milligrams of Loritab she was taking at a time. When Young told her, Dayne immediately processed paperwork to send her back to the United States. She was sent to Fort Gordon, Ga., for testing, and had an MRI test there. At first, they told her the overall view was fine and sent her to Fort Rucker, Ala., for follow-up tests. But the same day she left Fort Gordon, she was called back to the hospital there because they thought she might have a brain aneurysm. "Because I didn't belong to a unit yet, I had to find my own way back to Fort Gordon," Young said. "After more tests, they felt I had a blocked or collapsing vein in my forehead. I was sent back to Fort Rucker."

After a two-month wait, Young finally saw a neurologist in December. He put her on medication and sent her home. "Since then, I have had two seizures, and my headaches have intensified," Young said. "By Alabama law, Fort Rucker had to pull my driving privileges." Not being able to drive has increased her depression and stress, Young said. "I now have to depend on others to go to and from work, PX, even recreational activities," she said. Repeated requests to be home stationed have been denied. Young said she wants to return to Nashville where she owns a home and would be closer to her family, friends and other members of her unit. During Sunday's ceremony, each soldier in the unit was awarded medals for their service while they were deployed. Young said her unit spent 10 1/2 months in Kuwait after being home only 9 1/2 months from Bosnia. "Our jobs were personnel duties, but we performed military police duties," Young said. "We pulled guard duty and 'shooter' missions to Baghdad International Airport." She doesn't believe the military has done all it can to get to the root of her problem, and, she said, there are others who have suffered adverse effects since their vaccinations. She now takes 3,000 mg. of Keppra for her seizures and Imitrex shots for headaches.

"I have been stateside for seven months," she said, "and still have no idea when I'll be done."