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Air Force nullifies former sergeant's reprimand

http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071201/NEWS/712010338/1006/NEWS

Veteran had spoken out against anthrax vaccinations

By ESTEBAN PARRA, The News Journal

A lawsuit filed three years ago by a retired Air Force sergeant stationed in Dover who spoke out against the military's anthrax vaccination program was settled when the Pentagon agreed Thursday to remove a reprimand it placed on his otherwise spotless military record.

The Department of Defense confirmed that the letter of reprimand given to retired Staff Sgt. Jason A. Adkins, 35, after he challenged the program was "deemed to be of no effect," Adkins' attorney Stephen J. Neuberger said Friday.

"My client is gratified that this long chapter of his life is finally over and is elated that his flawless military record has finally been restored," Neuberger said. "He wishes to thank his family for standing by him and God for answering his prayers. Jason looks forward to focusing his energies on his family as well as his lawn care business in Smyrna."

Although the reprimand would not have affected his military benefits, Neuberger said the reproach was a blemish on a distinguished record that could affect future jobs.

"When you put it in writing, in a formal letter of reprimand, that's a big black mark on your career," he said.

Adkins, a decorated 14-year veteran who flew on C-5s into Baghdad, sued Air Force officials, including former Dover Air Force Base commander Col. John Pray Jr. and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2004.

In his suit, Adkins said he suffered retaliation after speaking out against the vaccination program.

His lawsuit mentioned a series of articles about the anthrax program published by The News Journal in October 2004. Adkins alleges commanders "were angered and displeased by the media scrutiny" and shortly thereafter, when he complained to a flight surgeon about headaches he thought were linked to the vaccine, he was reprimanded and grounded, ending his career, as an example to others.

Dover Air Force personnel referred questions to the Pentagon. Officials there were not available to comment Friday.

Adkins retained Wilmington's Neuberger firm, as well as The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties law firm that specializes in defending constitutional and human rights.

While the suit sought to restore Adkins' record and prevent further retaliation, Neuberger and The Rutherford Institute hoped it would help repeal the Feres Doctrine, a decades-old Supreme Court opinion that prevents service members from suing the government for injuries received in the military.

The Feres Doctrine remains.

Investigative reporter Lee Williams contributed to this story. Contact Esteban Parra at 324-2299 or eparra@delawareonline.com.

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