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'I want to be healthy again' - Visalian says anthrax vaccine ended his Air Force career

Visalia Times-Delta, CA
By David Castellon, Staff writer

As a teenager graduating from Visalia's Mt. Whitney High School in 2000, Wess Hardin had plans for his future. Those plans included time in the Air Force and maybe being a police officer. The 22-year-old says he believes a vaccine that was supposed to protect his life has de-railed those plans.

"This sucks. I want to be healthy again," said Hardin, sitting in the dining
room of his parents' Visalia home. He has lived with his parents since being
honorably discharged from the Air Force in December 2002, just a year-and-a-half into his initial four-year enlistment.

He said he was honorably discharged over a "failure to adapt" to Air Force
life. But that "failure" was tied into a bout of alcoholism, mood swings and
talking back to superiors.

However, Hardin said, the drinking and aggressive behavior aren't rooted in
a bad attitude. In-stead, he said they stemmed from a series of health
problems, which included dizziness, depression, chest pains, seizures, a
diagnosed bipolar disorder, poor memory retention and some hair loss that he
didn't suffer from until after he began receiving injections of the military's controversial an-thrax vaccine.

"Wess wasn't this way before. He was articulate," said his father, Del
Hardin, a retired Tulare County sheriff's deputy.

He referred to the lethargic, almost sleepy way that his son moves and
talks, and his frequent lapses of short-term memory, like somebody
intoxicated or on drugs. Wess Hardin said he no longer drinks, though
occasionally he does smoke marijuana.

But it's the depression and lack of energy -- "I wish I had energy" -- that
he said has affected his demeanor and speech.

"That just sounds so unlike him," said Marlin Roehl, who taught Hardin
American literature at Mt. Whitney. "I mean, every day he was full of energy, enthusiasm, good humor. He always had plans. ... I don't think I ever saw him down."

Hardin isn't alone in claiming that the anthrax vaccinations have caused
health problems, many of the sort Hardin described. The vaccinations are a
series of shots required for all military members deployed to high-threat
areas, including the Persian Gulf.

From the beginning, the shots have caused controversy, largely about safety
concerns. Some reactions by people who have been injected with the vaccine
have been so severe and debilitating they require hospitalizations and
medical discharges from the services.

Hardin knew of the controversy before he took his first anthrax shot before
being deployed to Saudi Arabia in 2002, and even considered refusing.

Del Hardin, who also served in the Air Force, also was concerned about the
shots' safety. But he ended up encouraging his son to get the injections
rather than risk being drummed out of the Air Force or face court-martial
for disobeying a direct order.

At first, Wess Hardin seemed to suffer no ill effects. But upon his return
from Saudi Arabia, Del Hardin said he noticed subtle changes in his son that
just got worse. "He sounded sick all the time" and complained of body aches,
dizzy spells and congestion in his throat, the senior Hardin said.

He grew concerned enough that he went online and found a list of ailments
reported by people claiming adverse anthrax vaccine reactions. The ailments
were so consistent with those his son was experiencing that he became convinced the vaccine was the culprit.

But convincing the Air Force was a different matter.

"I saw a mess of [Air Force] doctors," Wess Hardin said, and they couldn't
determine a cause for his condition except to say, "It's in my head. Anxiety."

And tests by civilian doctors -- including one two weeks ago after he again
suffered chest pains -- have been similarly inconclusive, he added.

Some of the people medically separated from the military over vaccine
reactions have received disability pay and ongoing medical care.

Hardin said his discharge wasn't medical, so he got no such benefits. He
said he has to live with his parents because his health problems have made
it hard to hold down a job or to aspire to go back to college or trade school.

Even driving is off limits to him because of the risk he could have a seizure behind the wheel.

And since leaving the Air Force, Hardin said he has done little to try to
seek financial or medical assistance from the military, in part because he
believes "they're not going to help me."

But Kathy Hubbell, president and founder of the Military Vaccine Education
Center, a watchdog group providing information on the anthrax vaccine and
counseling to military members, disagreed.

"He needs to apply to the [Veterans Affairs] system for disability. He needs
to start with his local VA chapter," she said.

In addition, she said, Hardin needs to make sure he files a Vaccine Adverse
Event Reporting System report with the Food and Drug Administration and the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which track adverse reactions to

"And he needs to write everything he went through down on paper. We recommend people keep a daily journal ... because that's the only way you may be able to prove to the VA that [the health problems are] related to the shots.

"It's going to be a long fight. It sometimes takes the VA a couple of years
to kick in."

Del Hardin said he wants the military to give his son treatment for his
ailments. But he also wants parents to know that if their children join the
military there is a risk that comes from rolling up their sleeves and taking
the anthrax vaccine.

"I believe young adults have a responsibility to their country, but they
should not be treated as cattle," and they should have the right to refuse
the vaccine, he said.