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Free speech suit dropped; Ex-sergeant at air base spoke out about vaccines


By Randall Chase, Associated Press

DOVER — Attorneys for the Department of Defense and a former Air Force sergeant have agreed to dismiss a free speech lawsuit alleging that the airman was unfairly reprimanded for criticizing the military’s anthrax vaccine.

In a settlement reached Thursday, the Pentagon said a letter of reprimand given to Staff Sgt. Jason Adkins after he challenged the mandatory vaccination program in 2004was “deemed to be of no effect,” said Adkins’ attorney, Thomas Neuberger.

Neuberger said Adkins, who now works in the landscaping business, was elated with the outcome.

“The case was all about removing the adverse letter of reprimand from his file,” Neuberger said Friday. “We got exactly what we asked for.”

Officials with the Department of Defense and Justice Department had no immediate comment.

In May 2003, Adkins served on the first C-5 aircraft flown into Baghdad in the Iraq war.

Eight months later, he was one of 12 airmen who were deployed to Baghdad to fly a C-5Galaxy assigned to Travis Air Force Base in California that had been struck by enemy fire in Iraq.

In a lawsuit filed in November 2004, Adkins alleged that he was improperly disciplined by his superiors at Dover Air Force Base after seeking treatment for headaches and other medical problems he believed were related to the anthrax vaccine.

Adkins, 35, said he was grounded and received a letter of reprimand after discussing his suspicions about the vaccine with a Dover flight surgeon.

Adkins, a flight engineer and 14-year veteran, claimed that the Pentagon had used military personnel at Dover as guinea pigs for an experimental vaccine that contained squalene, an additive to boost its effectiveness.

Several other Dover airmen have made similar accusations, but military officials maintain that the vaccine is safe.

Critics believe that squalene, found in 1999 in small amounts in at least four vaccine lots from which doses were shipped to Dover and other installations, was responsible for mysterious ailments among some of those who received the vaccine.

A federal judge denied repeated requests by attorneys for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force officials to have Adkins’ lawsuit dismissed.

“The lawsuit alleged that on orders from the highest levels of the Pentagon, the Air Force sought to make an example out of Sgt. Adkins to silence dissent in his squadron and ensure that military personnel would immediately cease questioning the safety of the tainted vaccine being administered at the Dover base,” Neuberger said in a press release.

After a federal judge in Washington determined in 2004 that the FDA’s approval process for the vaccine was flawed and issued an injunction against its mandatory use, the Pentagon switched to voluntary use.

The FDA subsequently affirmed its finding that the vaccine was safe, and the Pentagon announced last year that mandatory vaccinations would resume, prompting a lawsuit by service members.

Staff writer Drew Volturo contributed to this article.