February 28, 2005

British Scientist to Receive $3.5 Million U.S. Grant for Botulism Vaccine

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is today expected to announce a $3.5 million federal grant to fund research on the first stable vaccine against airborne botulism poisoning, the London Daily Telegraph reported (see GSN, Jan. 12, 2004).

Stockpiles of the liquid vaccine could be produced by 2008 under the auspices of Project Bioshield, according to Bruce Roser, chief scientist at Cambridge Biostability in the United Kingdom (Nic Fleming, Daily Telegraph, Feb. 28).

February 25, 2005

Ecstasy trials for combat stress

David Adam
The Guardian

American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.

The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists. Several victims of rape and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom existing treatments are ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began last year.

Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist leading the trial, said: "It's looking very promising. It's too early to draw any conclusions but in these treatment-resistant people so far the results are encouraging.

"People are able to connect more deeply on an emotional level with the fact they are safe now."

He is about to advertise for war veterans who fought in the last five years to join the study.

According to the US national centre for post-traumatic stress disorder, up to 30% of combat veterans suffer from the condition at some point in their lives.

Known as shell shock during the first world war and combat fatigue in the second, the condition is characterised by intrusive memories, panic attacks and the avoidance of situations which might force sufferers to relive their wartime experiences.

Dr Mithoefer said the MDMA helped people discuss traumatic situations without triggering anxiety.

"It appears to act as a catalyst to help people move through whatever's been blocking their success in therapy."

The existing drug-assisted therapy sessions last up to eight hours, during music is played. The patients swallow a capsule containing a placebo or 125mg of MDMA - about the same or a little more than a typical ecstasy tablet.

Psychologists assess the patients before and after the trial to judge whether the drug has helped.

The study has provoked controversy, because significant doubts remain about the long-term risks of ecstasy.

Animal studies suggest that it lowers levels of the brain chemical serotonin, and some politicians and anti-drug campaigners have argued that research into possible medical benefits of illegal drugs presents a falsely reassuring message.

The South Carolina study marks a resurgence of interest in the use of controlled psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs. Several studies in the US are planned or are under way to investigate whether MDMA, LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can treat conditions ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to anxiety in terminal cancer patients.

Anthrax Vaccine Manufacturer Challenges Court Ruling

Global Security Newswire

The manufacturer of the anthrax vaccine used by the U.S. Defense Department
for inoculating service members has filed an appeal of a court order that rejected its status as a "safe and effective" treatment under Food and Drug Administration standards, the Frederick News-Post reported this week (see GSN, Feb. 17, 2005).

"We were licensed as a protection from anthrax, all forms of anthrax," said Kim Brennan Root of BioPort, the Frederick, Md.-based maker of Biothrax. "But because we weren't specific as to the types, the judge saw a problem."

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan barred mandatory anthrax
vaccinations and ordered the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its category 1 classification for Biothrax. The Pentagon this month invoked emergency provisions in the Project Bioshield Act to restart the program.

The public comment period on the BioPort case is expected to close at the end of next month, according to the News-Post. Once that information has been examined, the Food and Drug Administration could restore the vaccine's category 1 classification as a "safe and effective" drug.

With Pentagon approval, BioPort is simultaneously seeking emergency-use authorization, and Sullivan is scheduled to hear that argument on March 28.

A third option would be to continue the military immunization program on a voluntary basis, Root said.

"We could deliver it in a voluntary way," she said. "Right now it's mandatory. It has always been mandatory" (James Rada, Frederick News-Post, Feb. 23).

February 24, 2005

FDA Approves VIGIV For Side Effects Of Smallpox Vaccine

Bioworld Today
By Karen Pihl-Carey, Staff Writer

With an FDA nod for its vaccinia immune globulin, DVC LLC will provide the U.S. military with a product addressing the serious side effects of the smallpox vaccine.

Although smallpox was declared globally eradicated about 25 years ago, there is fear that terrorists could get their hands on the limited scientific samples of the virus that remain.

That is why DVC (formerly DynPort Vaccine Co.), which became wholly owned by El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) last year, began working on the intravenous product vaccinia immune globulin (VIGIV) in 1998. Its research was part of a project spanning eight years with the Department of Defense Joint Vaccine Acquisition Program (JVAP) Product Management Office.

VIGIV has orphan drug designation and it is the first FDA-licensed product for both JVAP and DVC.

"Because the smallpox vaccine is made of the live virus, even though it's a weakened version of the virus, it can occasionally cause serious side effects," said Terry Irgens, president of DVC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said about 1,000 people in every 1 million vaccinated experience serious reactions, such as a vaccinia rash, or a toxic and allergic rash. Less serious reactions include soreness where the vaccine was administered, large and sore glands in the armpits, a low fever and trouble sleeping and conducting daily tasks.

VIGIV is designed specifically to address the rash, which can spread all over the body and can be transmitted by contact with another person. The vaccine for the side effect is given only when the serious reaction occurs after administration of the smallpox vaccine.

Inventing a smallpox vaccine that does not contain a live virus could help thwart the serious rash side effect, but it would take several years to develop.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, military personnel began taking the smallpox vaccine as a precautionary measure. While DVC already was working in that area, the company accelerated the production of the doses on hand and prepared for mass vaccination, Irgens told BioWorld Today.

"It definitely heightened the concern," he said. "Of course, the CDC classified smallpox as the greatest threat to public health."

VIGIV now may have FDA approval, but DVC does not intend to market it to the general population - at least not at this point in time.

"All of the product that we have on hand and the doses that we will be making in the future have all been designated for the Department of Defense," Irgens said.

The company already has received payment for the development and licensure of the vaccine. If an emergency occurs within the general population, the FDA approval allows VIGIV to be made and used for people other than military personnel, Irgens said.

Another company, Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Cangene Corp., is developing the same product, called vaccinia hyperimmune globulin, for the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services. That product is awaiting FDA approval. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 4, 2004.)

DVC's biologics license application for VIGIV consisted of Phase I data that showed no serious adverse events among 33 healthy volunteers who each received a 100-mg dose per kilogram of body weight. A previous study also showed no serious adverse events in 79 volunteers receiving doses up to 500 mg per kilogram of body weight.

DVC initially evolved as a joint venture of DynCorp, of Reston, Va., and London-based Porton International plc. CSC acquired DynCorp in 2003, and it acquired Porton's interest in DVC last August.

Aside from VIGIV, DVC is working with the government on vaccines for botulinum neurotoxin, tularemia, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, anthrax and plague.

February 17, 2005

U.S. Judge Warns Rumsfeld Could Face Contempt for Ignoring Anthrax Program Injunction

Global Security Newswire

A federal judge has warned that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could be held in contempt for pressing forward with mandatory military anthrax vaccinations despite a 1999 order by then President Bill Clinton requiring “informed consent” for inoculations, United Press International reported Tuesday (see GSN, Feb. 2).

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered Rumsfeld to “show cause by Feb. 28” why “he/or the government should not be held in contempt” for failing to follow the injunction.

The judge in October barred mandatory vaccinations. The Pentagon this month invoked emergency provisions in the Project Bioshield Act to restart the program.

Sullivan also told service members and Defense Department employees fighting the vaccine program to respond to an emergency motion by the Pentagon requesting modification of his earlier ruling (United Press International/Washington Times, Feb. 15).

February 14, 2005

Honor Betrayed: Chemical Veterans

Roger McCoy
10 Investigates - WBNS-TV, February - March 2005

March 25, 2005 - UPDATE- Ten years after first promising to do so, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has begun contacting thousands of World War II military personnel exposed to dangerous chemical tests and inviting them to seek disability benefits. The VA sent 270 letters this month to military personnel or their families, with more mailings to follow as the agency finds addresses for the veterans. The VA opened a toll-free information hotline for veterans or families. The number is 800-749-8387, extension 4.

The VA action follows a 10 Investigates report last month that revealed how the agency broke a 1993 promise to Congress to contact World War II personnel involved in chemical tests, warn them of the health risks and encourage them to file claims. Information about the testing and VA benefits is available on the department's Web site. Go to www.va.gov and enter the keyword "mustard."

(2/18/2005) UPDATE- The Veterans' Administration is now giving specifics about what it will do for World War II veterans used in secret chemical warfare tests.

10 Investigates reported this week that thousands of WWII vets suffered injuries, physical and psychological, from the chemical warfare tests. Most have never been provided medical benefits.

Renee Szybala, director of the VA's compensation and pension service says up to 60,00 veterans could now get benefits because of their chemical exposure during WWII. Szybala said the first letters will go out by the end of the month and notify 4,500 veterans, the first group identified by the U.S. Department of Defense as being eligible for the chemical exposure benefits. "This is a rolling out reach," said Szybala. "We will be sending letters to everybody."

The letters will go to veterans who had full body contact with mustard gas, lewisite and other chemical agents or veterans who had partial body contact with the chemicals. Szybala said a third letter will be sent to surviving spouses of veterans who have died and were exposed to the chemicals during their WWII service years. The basic compensation rates go from $400 to $2,200 a month, depending on the percentage of disability.

Vice Admiral Daniel L. Cooper (Ret.), Under Secretary for Benefits in the Department of Veterans Affairs also said a toll-free phone number will be set up so that veterans or veterans' families can learn more about applying for the benefits. "We're giving them a 1-800 number to call," said Cooper. "We're having them go into the hospitals and get checked. I think we're thoroughly marching down a plan and that's essentially where it is."

Ohio Congressman Ted Strickland, (D) Lisbon, says the Veterans Administration is finally keeping its promise to help the World War II veterans who were exposed to chemicals by the U.S. military. "It appears that they are taking this seriously and that they are beginning to take the steps necessary to communicate with these individuals who were used as experimental animals, basically," said Rep. Strickland.
(2/14/2005) World War II (WWII) has been called ''the unfought chemical war." Both sides produced millions of tons of chemical weapons and made massive preparations for their use, yet the weapons were never used. These preparations included secret research programs in the United States to develop better weapons and better methods of protecting against these weapons. By the time the war ended, 10 Investigates learned over 60,000 U.S. servicemen had been used as human subjects in this chemical defense research program. At least 4,000 of these subjects had participated in tests conducted with high concentrations of mustard agents or Lewisite in gas chambers or in field exercises over contaminated ground areas.
They volunteered to defend America. Instead, in a 10 Investigates review of declassified documents, thousands of World War II veterans became subjects for secret chemical warfare tests. It was one of the U.S. military's darkest secrets and many Ohio soldiers were among those tested at an Army base in Maryland.

A vacant building at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground is where some of the tests were conducted. It's a faded reminder of what happened in the fall of 1943 on this portion of the Maryland facility known then as Edgewood Arsenal. "They said they had some experiments," said 84-year-old Bill Biggs of Athens, Ohio. He was a private in the Army and one of the volunteers who didn't know the true risks of the experiments until after they had been conducted. Biggs and 99 other members of the 1st Chemical Casual Company thought they were doing their patriotic duty. "We didn't know exactly what we were getting into," said Biggs.

That fall, the military herded several soldiers into sealed gas chambers at Edgewood Arsenal to test the effects of chemical warfare. Biggs said some of the chemical warfare experiments went too far. "But they should of stopped short of hurting somebody," said Biggs. Biggs says he and some of the other volunteers were lucky. They were tested with a classified nerve gas that was meant to blur the enemy's eyesight. It reduced Biggs pupils to pin-points. "And left them that way. Mine for 10 days," said Biggs.

Other soldiers were tested with mustard agents (sulfur and nitrogen mustard) and Lewisite (an arsenic-containing agent) to see if the experimental clothes or skin lotions they wore could repel the chemical weapons. Mustard gas burns eyes and skin. It can cause permanent lung damage even cancer. "Those guys really had it tough," said Biggs who grew concerned as the military kept raising the mustard gas concentrations to the point where they caused severe injuries to many of the volunteers. "When they found that out, it was too late for the guys that were in there last, or next to last," said Biggs.

In Mansfield, James Earnshaw's family didn't know about the tests. Sworn to secrecy, Earnshaw couldn't tell his family why he received a medal whose true purpose was even cut out of his letter of commendation. Released early from the Army, Earnshaw was denied medical benefits for a nervous breakdown he suffered shortly after the experiments. Earnshaw's wife Mary Jo read to us the Army's medical report on her husband. "Anxiety type manifested by sleeplessness, nervousness and mild depression." It was just too much for him," said Mrs Earnshaw.

Sixty two years later, 10 Investigates learned the secret contents that had been clipped from of Earnshaw's commendation letter . It commended Earnshaw and other members of the 1st Chemical Casual Company for subjecting themselves to "pain, discomfort and possible permanent injury" from exposure to "chemical agents." Even so, the government denied Earnshaw's request years later for medical benefits.

Jim Earnshaw died in 1997 from heart disease never knowing the military had finally admitted to the chemical warfare tests in 1991. Shortly afterwards, the Veterans Administration promised to track down the victims, to get the word out. It didn't happen. There were no letters, no phone calls from the VA. The VA only ran limited public service ads describing the benefits in veterans magazines that most veterans didn't read. The medical benefits were finally there, but Earnshaw never knew about them. "I am sure that if he had known about it he would have probably asked," says Earnshaw's son Jim Earnshaw, Jr.

Dan Brock, Harvard University Medical Ethics Professor called the secrecy surrounding the tests a classic Catch-22, especially for the veterans who later suffered health consequences. "You're sworn to secrecy and then when you come back that secrecy is used against you in order to keep you from being able to get compensation and simple benefits," said Brock.

To further underscore the importance of contacting the affected veterans the Institute of Medicine in 1993 was asked by the VA to conduct its own study on the WWII Chemical experiments and concluded; "The human subjects had experienced a wide range of exposures to mustard agents or Lewisite, from mild (a drop of agent on the arm in "patch" tests) to quite severe (repeated gas chamber trials, sometimes without protective clothing). All of the men in the chamber and field tests, and some of the men in the patch tests, were told at the time that they should never reveal the nature of the experiments. Almost to a man, they kept this secret for the next 40 or more years.... The lack of follow-up of these subjects particularly dismayed the committee for a number of reasons. For example, the end point of the chamber and field tests was tissue injury, but it was already known by 1933 that certain long-term health problems resulted from sulfur mustard exposure. Further, it was documented that numerous subjects suffered severe injuries that required up to a month of treatment. Finally, the exposure levels were sufficiently high that even the most efficient gas mask would have leaked enough mustard agent or Lewisite to cause inhalation and eye injuries."

The Institute of Medicine study also noted the psychological effects associated with the chemical tests experienced by Earnshaw and other members of the 1st Chemical Casual Company. "Psychological disorders mood disorders anxiety disorders (including post-traumatic stress disorder) other traumatic stress disorder responses."

In Washington, we asked the Department of Veteran's Affairs what happened. Renee Szybala is director of the VA's compensation and benefits service. "I'm fairly new to the VA," said Szybala. "And I'm not well versed on what went on there. We're more looking to the future." Szybala explained that the VA was creating a new data base of potentially thousands of surviving WWII veterans who were exposed to chemicals or their surviving spouses. Once that task is done, Szybala says the VA will begin immediately contacting people by letter. That's something Ohio congressman Ted Strickland says should have happened long ago. "They promised several years ago to do something about this problem," said Rep. Strickland. "They have done little or nothing to this point."

The Veterans Administration says this time it will notify the Veterans or their surviving spouses who are eligible for the benefits. "I'm hoping that it's thousands that we'll be able to reach. I'm hoping that it is," said Szybala. Strickland, a member of the Veteran's Affairs Committee, says until convinced otherwise, he's doubtful. "To hear them say now that they're going to correct this and do the right thing I just simply don't think they're telling the truth." Last week, Rep. Strickland sent a letter to the Secretary of Veteran's Affairs asking him to " take action and give these veterans the benefits they rightfully deserve." Szybala says this time it will happen. "I'm content with that. I mean we'll convince him (Rep. Strickland) because this is going to happen."

If it happens, Bill Biggs says he'd be convinced the country he volunteered to serve 60 years ago is finally willing to admit it made a mistake. "If you pay these veterans for damages they received for doing this test then you're admitting that you over did it." The Department of Veterans Affairs promised to have more details about its efforts to contact WWII veterans exposed to chemicals later this month.

The Detroit Free Press and U.S. Army historian Jeffrey Smart at Aberdeen Proving Ground contributed to this report.

February 7, 2005

National Vaccine Information Center Calls 'Anti-Terror' Bill 'Unconstitutional'

Medical News

The USA's largest and oldest consumer-led vaccine safety organization, the National Vaccine Information Center, is calling a bill introduced into Congress by Senators Gregg and Frist entitled "Protecting America in the War on Terror Act of 2005" (S.3) an "assault on the Constitution" and a serious threat to protecting the health and informed consent rights of those who use federally regulated vaccines and drugs.

"This bill is labeled as an 'anti-terror' bill," said NVIC president and co-founder, Barbara Loe Fisher, "but it is power grab by the federal government and an assault on self-governance and the informed consent ethic.

It takes away the freedom of the people to make their voices heard through their elected state representatives and protect themselves from unsafe drugs, such as Celebrex and Vioxx, and unsafe vaccines, such as those that contain high levels of mercury. It gives unprecedented liability protection to the drug industry and broad powers to federal officials to hide the truth from the people about vaccine and prescription drug risks."

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution specifies that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Protecting the public health was not delegated to the federal government and public health laws, including laws governing use of vaccines, have always been under the control of citizens residing in each state.

Of major concern to vaccine safety advocates, are the following provisions in S.3:

* Eliminates a state's right to more strictly regulate vaccines and drugs and more fully inform their citizens about vaccine and drug risks than does the federal government. Laws already passed in California and Iowa limiting mercury content in vaccines would be repealed.

* Gives comprehensive liability protections to drug companies. Eliminates a citizen's right to seek justice in state courts for drug and vaccine injuries and deaths and limits awards in federal courts. Gives tax credits, grants and patent extensions to the drug industry.

* Allows the Department of Health and Department of Justice, the defendants in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, to write the terms of their own defense in order to further limit awards to vaccine injured children;

* Creates and funds a mandatory, national electronic tracking system operated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to monitor vital records of citizens relating to both notifiable and non-notifiable diseases and "new trends" and "patterns in public health." Creates penalties for states and health care providers not reporting in a "timely manner" to the national tracking system. There are no provisions for mandatory reporting of serious health problems following vaccine and prescription drug use or punishments for not reporting serious side effects.

S.3 is being promoted by sponsors as a military veteran benefit bill because it raises the death benefits and other financial support for the families of soldiers who lost their lives in the war in Iraq.

"The irony of this bill is that it is using the families of citizens who have given their lives to defend our nation's freedom in order to take rights and freedoms away from other families. Military veterans should not be used to protect the drug industry and take away the freedom for all Americans to have their voices heard through their elected state representatives," said Fisher.

"In his Inaugural speech, President Bush said 'there is no justice without freedom.' This bill does not serve justice or freedom."

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is a national, non-profit organization founded in 1982 by parents of vaccine injured children. NVIC worked with Congress on the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 and has worked with families in states to protect informed consent rights, including the right to have full and accurate information on vaccine benefits and risks prior to vaccination and make informed, voluntary vaccine decisions.

NVIC worked with families in California on the Mercury Free Act of 2004, which limited the amount of mercury in vaccines sold in that state.

For more information, go to the National Vaccine Information Center

February 3, 2005

US military stretched too thin?

Volunteer army is "closer to being broken today than ever before in its 30-year history."

By Tom Regan

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Pentagon experts worry that some of the military's most experienced pilots might quit after prolonged deployments to dangerous hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq. At least 14 US helicopters have crashed in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over last May, claiming some 58 lives and underscoring the vulnerability of an essential cog in US military operations there. Retention of pilots is a major concern because of the time, and the cost, of training them. Analysts say the situation with pilots is just one more example that the US military is stretched too thin.

"There is no question that the force is stretched too thin," said David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland. "We have stopped treating the reserves as a force in reserve. Our volunteer army is closer to being broken today than ever before in its 30-year history."

The Denver Post notes that while sign-up and retention rates for active-duty branches remain strong, the recruiting of reservists has fallen off. Last year the Army fell 7 percent below its recruitment goal. And in some states, the retention rate has fallen far below the desired 85 percent - In Colorado it has fallen to 71 percent.

"This year we have lost 49 soldiers, and that is bad news," said Master Sgt. Pat Valdez, a spokesman for the 2nd Brigade of the 91st Division of the Army Reserve, which comprises some 800 soldiers from Western Plains states. "They are getting out because of personal reasons, promotions at work ... and stress on family."

One result of this situation, The Washington Post reported earlier this week, is that the Army alone has blocked the departure of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and Reserve members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Reuters quotes the Pentagon as saying that 187,746 National Guard and Reserve troops were mobilized as of Dec. 31, 2003. About 20 percent of the troops in Iraq are Reservists or Guard members but this proportion is expected to double next year. The Associated Press notes the number of military reservists called to active duty jumped by more than 10,000 in the past week, reflecting their new role in Iraq.

In order to accomodate the massive changeover between departing and arriving troops the next two months in Iraq, the Army this week issued a "stop loss" order to keep 7,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq from leaving the service at the end of their regular enlistments. But some defense analysts say stop-loss orders will discourage new recruits, bound to see many in uniform as no longer volunteers. "The reality is the stop-loss orders that are now in effect amount to a de facto draft," Charles Pena, defense analyst with the Cato Institute, said.

The Albany Times Union reports that the military may soon start calling up retired reservists. There are 800,000 Reserve retirees. The Pentagon is asking them to provide updated address and contact information.

But repeated deployments can keep reservists away from home for years. And this has raised concerns in the Pentagon that they will leave the military as soon as possible.

"A lot of them are telling me 'When I get back, I'm not staying in. I'm getting completely out,' " said Sgt. Phillip Thomas, who oversees about 300 reservists as recruitment and retention officer at Bradt US Army Reserve Center in Niskayuna. He said they don't mind active duty for six months, but any longer becomes a burden for those who have families and careers back home. Some worry their marriages won't survive repeated deployments, he said.

Erich Marquardt, writing in the Asia Times, notes that the Bush administration had advanced warning that this problem might occur. A report released by the Congressional Budget Office in November of 2003 on the ability to sustain troops in Iraq recognized this dilemma. The CBO concluded that the active army would be unable to maintain current troop levels "beyond about March 2004 if it chose not to keep individual units deployed to Iraq for longer than one year without relief. Marquandt says that one reason that retention rates are such a concern is that this is the first period of major combat where Reserve troops are being deployed to the front line in such large numbers.

Even though National Guard and Reserve troops were sent to the 1991 war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, they rarely were deployed on the front lines, and were instead relegated to combat support roles. With the new troop deployment rotation planned by the Pentagon, these troops will serve on the front lines and will certainly see casualties among their ranks.

The military is also trying a financial incentive to retain full-time troops. The Army recently announced reenlistment bonuses of up to $10,000. Under the program, soldiers serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait who re-enlist for three years or more will be paid bonuses of up to $10,000, regardless of their military specialty. The new bonus applies only to active duty solders in the Army, and not to other military branches; nor does it apply to the National Guard or reservists.

The Associated Press reports that soldiers in Iraq had mixed responses to the bonus idea. Some told AP reporters that "no amount of money" would keep them in the military, while others said that the bonus is a "a good chunk of money," particularly for those who were planning on signing up again anyway. But the decision may be hardest on those with a family.

"Maybe if I were single I'd think about it," said Sgt. Dante Legare, 32, of the 4th Infantry Division. "That's pretty good money ... enough to maybe put a down payment on a house," said Legare, a New York City native. "But is it worth it? I've already been away something like nine months. I want to see my wife."

But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he has seen no evidence so far in a major ongoing Pentagon study to support calls from analysts and some Army officials to boost the service's strength by perhaps 20,000 troops to 500,000. Analysts believe some strains are inevitable as the force is remodeled to make it more flexible and based more on high tech weapons than boots on the ground. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added: "We're asking extraordinary things from the force and their families. I think most individuals understand and their families understand what we're asking them to do. We're asking them a lot. They're responding magnificently."

The real test, according to the Meridan (Connecticut) Record-Journal will come when troops from Afghanistan and Iraq arrive back in the US in February and March. "It will be a ballot or a vote with their feet," Connecticut National Guard Adjutant Gen. Walter A. Cugno said. "Those that stay vote for you. Those that choose to leave say, ‘Thank-you. I've served honorably. My family said I had enough.'"

And while many reservists are about to see their first action, The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the issues facing those who have just returned from active duty. Often they feel pressure to make up for the financial loses they, or their business, have suffered while they were gone. Sometimes they are not always welcomed back with open arms when they return to work. And unlike regular troops, they often lack a support system to help them deal with the transition. That's why the military often advises reservists to attend monthly drills the first three months they are home, even though they are not required to go. It also encourages employers to talk with co-workers before a reservist returns from active duty.