April 30, 2008

Plaintiffs Wanted for New Lawsuit - AVIP

Contact ASAP either Mark Zaid or Lou Michels IF you want to participate in the lawsuit, and are either currently going through the program, or, are expected to be. It is "preferred" that plaintiffs are NOT currently going through punishment for refusing, but each individual will be determined on a case by case basis.

Plaintiffs can be active duty, reservists, guardsman, civilian employee, or civilian contractor; so long as you are possibly facing having to take the anthrax vaccine OR have started the program

Your name WILL have to be publicly identified (such as the last lawsuit). No retaliation has resulted as of yet.

Mark Zaid: zaidms@aol.com
Lou Michels: jmichels@mcguirewoods.com

April 28, 2008

Review ordered for anthrax vaccine refusers

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer

A federal judge’s decision could lead to clearing the records of military personnel who refused to take mandatory anthrax shots between 1999 and 2004.

Judge James Robertson of the district court for the District of Columbia admonished the Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records, which had rejected a petition by two former Connecticut Air National Guard officers for compensatory relief for back pay and lost promotions after they claim they were forced to resign for refusing the vaccine.

The plaintiffs, Thomas Rempfer and the estate of the late Russell Dingle, based their appeal on a separate anthrax vaccine lawsuit.

Robertson said the Air Force records board mistakenly characterized that lawsuit as a victory for the government, when it was not, and cited that conclusion in rejecting the petition.

The board is a civilian entity empowered to review Air Force records “when necessary to correct an error or remove an injustice.”

In early 1998, Rempfer and Dingle were appointed to look into concerns they and other unit members had about the vaccine’s efficacy against airborne anthrax, which the Pentagon considered the likeliest threat against troops. After their review, they felt the concerns were justified, refused an order to be vaccinated and were disciplined, as were what is believed to be hundreds of other service members.

Rempfer and Dingle’s estate want their personnel records corrected to reflect their work with that task force, to document that their discharge was an “illegal constructive termination” and to get back pay and allowances, plus rank and points lost as a result of that termination.

In his March 14 decision, Robertson wrote that the Air Force board must reconsider the cases “and explain its conclusions about the merits of plaintiffs’ constructive discharge claims and their accompanying demands for compensatory relief.”

In other words, said John J. “Lou” Michels, a pro bono attorney for the plaintiffs, the court told the board: “You’re wrong, and you’re going to have to reassess your opinion. And when you reconsider this matter, we’re going to look very closely at your basis. You’re disagreeing with a federal court ... it’s not your job to do that. It’s the federal court’s expertise. You’d better have a pretty good justification.”

Along with forcing review of the plaintiff’s claims, the decision could open the door for other service members who may have similar complaints, Michels said.

But some claims could be blunted by a six-year statute of limitations on civil cases. In fact, Robertson ruled that time had run out on two of the three claims made by Rempfer and Dingle.

“For a lot of these folks, time has run out, which is why I think we need some legal redress on this, or an executive decision,” Michels said in an April 24 interview.

“What this should do is send a very clear message to Congress that this whole program was wrong from the very beginning,” Michels said.

The Pentagon “illegally injected people with an uncertified vaccine,” he said. “It seems to me a legislative fix is in order so that these kids don’t have to go out and hire lawyers to get their records fixed.”

Michels said Congress also should order the Veterans Affairs Department “to do a much better job of going out and finding people who took the vaccine, were sickened, and get them care for their injuries — very similar to what they did for Agent Orange folks.”

The vaccine has long been approved for use against anthrax contracted through the skin. In a 2003 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan sided with six anonymous military litigants to rule that the Food and Drug Administration had never approved the anthrax vaccine for protection against inhaled spores and that it was being used for an “unapproved purpose.”

It was this ruling that the Air Force board misinterpreted, Robinson found.

Sullivan’s decision, Robertson wrote, meant that up to that time, forcing service members to take anthrax shots violated federal law.

The Pentagon had to suspend its involuntary program for most of the time between December 2003 and February 2007, until after the FDA ruled that the vaccine was safe and efficient for all forms of anthrax and the Pentagon could obtain new supplies.

Inoculations are required for service members and emergency-essential and equivalent Defense Department civilians assigned for 15 or more consecutive days to the U.S. Central Command or U.S. Forces Korea areas.

There are provisions for forces afloat, members assigned to special units with biowarfare- or bioterrorism-related missions, and other designated units.

April 25, 2008

Biolab Risks


Frederick County's commissioners were offered an easier choice in confronting concerns about a new biolab at Fort Detrick. But that doesn't imply it won't come at a cost, and for that they deserve our praise.

For more than a year, commissioners dutifully heard arguments for a court review of an environmental study that didn't fully address the potential catastrophic hazards posed by tens of thousands of square feet of BSL-4 biolabs, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of BSL-2 and -3 labs.

At times, it must've seemed an onerous distraction from their budget, trash and land-use quandaries, and they probably resented the intrusion.

They understand the role that Detrick has played historically and economically in the county, and some have longtime associations with people who work at Detrick. Besides, what local government body wants to pick a fight with the U.S. Army and Congress, particularly in a federal courtroom? The best outcome expected from such a battle is a lengthy delay until smarter heads in Washington can prevail.

That's too much of a gamble.

Thanks to the informed and sustained efforts of residents, the commissioners found a more palatable and meaningful way to assess the serious threat to the public safety and welfare, one with the potential to put the brakes on the growth of biolabs at USAMRIID.

With Sen. Barbara Mikulski's full endorsement, commissioners now look to the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the safety of housing deadly pathogens with no vaccine or cure in the heart of a densely populated city. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that this type of facility should be constructed in an isolated location.

The actions of the commissioners in seeking input from NAS are especially timely, and their concerns, as well as those of a growing number of residents, cannot be brushed aside as alarmist overreaction.

Detrick insiders protest Detrick knows its job when it comes to containment and security. But well-documented breaches have occurred at Detrick over the years, incidents publicized in the local and national press, underscoring the wisdom and necessity of the commissioners' action.

FOX News reported last month that the FBI has narrowed its focus to "about four suspects," at least three of whom are linked to USAMRIID, including a former deputy commander, a leading anthrax scientist and a microbiologist.

FOX talked to a bioterrorism expert who said the Detrick link points out "serious security deficiencies ... the ability of researchers to smuggle out some type of very sophisticated anthrax weapon and in some quantity."

This revelation goes far beyond calling into question security at Detrick. This revelation amounts to official acknowledgement that the anthrax letters could be an inside job whose purpose is reflected in the following statement by former USAMRIID commander David Frantz, as reported by ABC News in 2002: "I think a lot of good has come from [the anthrax attacks]. From a biological or a medical standpoint, we've now five people who have died, but we've put about $6 billion in our budget into defending against bioterrorism."

The Frederick Citizens for Biolab Safety will meet regarding the National Academy of Sciences safety review of USAMRIID from 7 to 8:45 p.m. April 28 and April 29 at C. Burr Artz Library. Participants will discuss benefits of the study, the process, and the important role residents will continue to play.


Corps to track anthrax refusal discharges

By Trista Talton - Staff writer

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Refusal to take the anthrax vaccine has cost many Marines their careers during the Pentagon’s on-, then off-, then on-again mandatory vaccination program.

Exactly how many Marines rejected the vaccine and were subsequently discharged throughout the six-year mandatory program is unknown. But a request from Congress, which is seeking statistics on the number of Marines discharged for refusing the six-shot regimen, is changing that.

In April, Marine administrative message 223/08 announced the Corps’ plans to track each case where a Marine was discharged for refusing the vaccine.

“In order to accurately track these discharges, we are establishing codes directly relating to these discharges,” the message states.

There are nine specific discharge codes. They track discharges or dismissals as a result of court-martial convictions, misconduct resignations allowed in lieu of administrative separation proceedings, and involuntary separations and resignations on grounds of misconduct and unacceptable conduct.

Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease spread by dust-like spores that can be inhaled. The Pentagon, saying the vaccinations are necessary to protect troops from weaponized versions of the disease, instituted a mandatory anthrax inoculation program in 1998.

During the mandatory program, which temporarily ceased in 2004, dozens of service members were court-martialed for refusing the vaccine, and hundreds more were administratively punished. More than 100 service members from all branches were court-martialed two years after the program began, according to 2000 federal court records.

Lance Cpl. Jared Schwartz became the first of five Marines based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., court-martialed in 1999 for refusing to take the vaccine. He was sentenced to 30 days in the brig and a bad-conduct discharge. His conviction was followed by those of Lance Cpl. Michael Metzig, Lance Cpl. Michael McIntyre, Lance Cpl. Jared Johnston and Lance Cpl. Jason Austin, all sentenced to 25 to 30 days confinement and bad-conduct discharges.
After years of controversy that included stories linking the vaccine to medical problems — and, in some cases, death — a federal judge temporarily halted the program in October 2004. The judge ruled that troops could not be forced to take the shots because the Food and Drug Administration had not properly certified the vaccine as effective against airborne anthrax spores.

In December 2005, the FDA did just that, issuing a final order and licensing the vaccine for the prevention of airborne anthrax. Little more than a year later, the vaccine was again mandated, required for all troops traveling to the Middle East or South Korea for 15 or more consecutive days.

An all-Marine message in March 2007 announcing the resumption of the mandatory program makes clear the ramifications Marines face if they refuse the vaccine.
“Commanders will manage immunization refusals as they would address any refusal to obey a lawful order,” the message states.

Reports of refusals are down from where they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
That’s true of the II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Since the anthrax vaccine became mandatory to those deploying in the CentCom area of operation, II MEF has not discharged any Marine or sailor for refusal to accept the vaccine,” II MEF spokesman Lt. Col. Curtis Hill said.

I MEF spokeswoman 1st Lt. Lisa Lawrence said no one in I MEF has been discharged for refusing to take the anthrax vaccine since the Pentagon’s mandatory inoculation program was reinstated early last year.

April 24, 2008

Vets' Lawsuit Opens Door on Suicides, Poor Care

"Her husband Manuel was reduced to a wheelchair after experiencing a negative reaction to an anthrax vaccine administered as he was preparing to deploy to Iraq with the U.S. Navy in 2003. Military doctors pumped him with steroids and other medicine in hopes he would recover, Conklin said, but in 2005 she came to realise that was unlikely and filed a claim with the VA for disability compensation.

After three years, the family is still waiting.

"It's an every day battle," Kelly Conklin told IPS. "We're having grits and eggs for supper tonight and a lot of nights. Sometimes we don't eat anything but lima beans for supper -- it depends on what we have."

In the absence of a regular paycheque or a disability cheque, Conklin says her family of four is now living almost completely off charity, with much of the food they eat coming from the local food bank.

She said she used to be proud of her husband for his service in the Navy, but has now forbidden her youngest son from joining the Armed Forces.

"If it sounds like I'm down, yes I am down," she told IPS. "If I sound like I'm bitter, you got that right. They've taken everything away from me. The only thing left for them to take from me is my birthday."

"When we give them our spouses, we give them whole," she said. "And if you can't make him whole [again], then you make sure he's taken care of."

Vets' Lawsuit Opens Door on Suicides, Poor Care
Aaron Glantz

SAN FRANCISCO, Apr 22 (IPS) - The United States government does such a bad job of caring for wounded war veterans, advocates told a federal judge here Monday, that 18 veterans commit suicide every week.
"The suicide problem is out of control," said Gordon Erspamer, an attorney representing the groups Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth in a class action lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). "Our veterans deserve better."

Erspamer's comments came in opening arguments for what is expected to be a week-long trial, the first class action brought on behalf of 1.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Early arguments were punctuated by allegations top government officials deliberately deceived the U.S. public about the number of veterans attempting suicide.

In one e-mail made public during the trial, the head of the VA's Mental Health division, Dr. Ira Katz, advised a media spokesperson not to tell reporters 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

"Shh!" the e-mail begins.

"Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" the e-mail concludes.

According to CBS News, Katz's email was written shortly after the VA provided the network with data showing there were only 790 attempted suicides in all of 2007 -- a fraction of Katz's estimate.

Earlier this month, the city of Dallas, Texas closed its psychiatric unit after the hospital experienced its fourth suicide of the year.

"On Apr. 4, a man fastened a bed sheet to the bottom corner of a door frame, draped a noose over the top, and hanged himself," the Dallas Morning News reported last week. "Before that, a veteran hanged himself on a frame attached to his wheelchair. And in January, two men who met in the psychiatric ward committed suicide in Collin County days after being released."

"The system is in crisis and unfortunately the VA is in denial," Erspamer told the court, urging U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti to appoint a special master to oversee the troubled agency. The veterans' groups are also seeking a judge's order forbidding the VA from turning away any veteran who shows up at a facility seeking mental health care.

In a number of high-profile cases, Iraq war veterans have killed themselves after being turned away from the VA.

Lawyers for the government argued strongly against the veterans, countering the VA runs a "world-class health care system". Multiple times during his opening statement, Justice Department lawyer Richard Lepley portrayed the veterans' groups as "special interests" and argued the changes the groups seek in their lawsuit -- better and faster mental health care, and more rights for veterans appealing denials of benefits -- are beyond the judge's authority.

"You have no standards to judge," Lepley told Conti. "This court shouldn't be trying to be a substitute for what the medical professionals at the VA decide."

No veterans are set to testify at the trial, which focuses on the nature of the Byzantine bureaucratic system veterans must navigate to receive health care and disability benefits. According the Department of Veterans Affairs, the average time a veteran must wait to learn if his or her disability claim has been approved is 185 days, or about six months.

Veterans' groups countered the real wait is much longer, noting that if a veteran appeals the disability ruling, the appeals process can drag on for years. According to internal VA documents provided by the plaintiffs, 526 veterans have died this year while their disability claims were being reviewed.

None of this surprises Kelly Conklin of Chunchula, Alabama.

Her husband Manuel was reduced to a wheelchair after experiencing a negative reaction to an anthrax vaccine administered as he was preparing to deploy to Iraq with the U.S. Navy in 2003. Military doctors pumped him with steroids and other medicine in hopes he would recover, Conklin said, but in 2005 she came to realise that was unlikely and filed a claim with the VA for disability compensation.

After three years, the family is still waiting.

"It's an every day battle," Kelly Conklin told IPS. "We're having grits and eggs for supper tonight and a lot of nights. Sometimes we don't eat anything but lima beans for supper -- it depends on what we have."

In the absence of a regular paycheque or a disability cheque, Conklin says her family of four is now living almost completely off charity, with much of the food they eat coming from the local food bank.

She said she used to be proud of her husband for his service in the Navy, but has now forbidden her youngest son from joining the Armed Forces.

"If it sounds like I'm down, yes I am down," she told IPS. "If I sound like I'm bitter, you got that right. They've taken everything away from me. The only thing left for them to take from me is my birthday."

"When we give them our spouses, we give them whole," she said. "And if you can't make him whole [again], then you make sure he's taken care of."

*Aaron Glantz is the author of two upcoming books on Iraq: "The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans" (UC Press) and "Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations" (Haymarket). He edits the website WarComesHome.org.

April 21, 2008

Military medical malpractice: Seeking recourse


Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times
By Walter F. Roche Jr., Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Dean Witt’s widow, Alexis, holds their son, Noah, 4, with daughter Hannah, 5. She is determined to challenge the Feres doctrine — a 1950 Supreme Court ruling that prevents the bereaved family from suing for malpractice — in court.

Outrage over a recent spate of incidents spurs fresh efforts to overturn the Feres doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court decision denying active-duty service members the right to sue over medical errors.

Minutes after routine surgery for acute appendicitis in October 2003, Staff Sgt. Dean Witt, 25, was being moved to a recovery room at a Northern California military hospital when he gasped and stopped breathing.

A student nurse assisting an understaffed anesthesia team tried to resuscitate Witt and failed. Inexplicably, Witt's gurney was wheeled into a pediatric area. Lifesaving devices sized for children, not a 175-pound adult, proved useless, according to an internal report on the incident.

Medical personnel at David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base screamed at each other. A double dose of a powerful stimulant was mistakenly administered. When a breathing tube was finally inserted, it was misdirected, uselessly pumping air into the patient's stomach. Errors compounded errors and delays multiplied.

By the time a breathing tube finally was inserted correctly, Witt had devastating brain damage. Three months later, he was removed from life support and died. Witt, who grew up in Oroville, Calif., left behind a wife and two children, including a 4-month-old son.

"This medical incident was due to an avoidable error," concluded an unpublished internal report, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times.

Despite questionable medical care criticized in the report, the bereaved family could not sue for malpractice because Witt was an active-duty airman. Under limits stemming from a Supreme Court ruling nearly 60 years old, military hospitals and their staffs are immune from malpractice claims -- even for the most egregious lapses -- if the victim is an enlisted member on active duty.

A series of court rulings since 1950 have upheld the original decision, known as Feres vs. United States, denying members of the military the right to sue for damages over medical errors or even deliberate wrongs.

Barbara Cragnotti of Medford, Ore., learned of the Feres case after her son Joseph suffered lung and neurological injuries from undiagnosed pneumonia while under a military doctor's care. Joseph Cragnotti was in the Navy and had nearly completed training for submarine duty when he was stricken.

Military medical personnel failed to provide antibiotics, and her son ended up having multiple surgeries. He lost part of a lung. His mother said his condition deteriorated further after doctors at the naval hospital in Bremerton, Wash., took the sailor off a needed drug, causing seizures and permanent neurological damage.

Joseph Cragnotti, now 28, has left the military but still needs treatment for his medical conditions.

His mother joined VERPA -- Veterans Equal Rights Protection Advocacy -- a nonprofit group determined "to expose and remedy" what it calls "the un-American Feres doctrine."

Barbara Cragnotti, now head of the organization, foresees more trouble as wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan strain a taxed military health system. "Congress is not going to act until the public forces them to," she said. The military medical establishment is "hiding behind the Feres doctrine."

Christine Lemp, whose husband, James, 35, died after receiving questionable medical care at Missouri's Ft. Leonard Wood, said accountability was lacking. "One of the most disturbing things is that these doctors can do anything and nothing happens," she said.

Army Capt. James Lemp was diagnosed with a stomach virus in 2003. Hours later, he was brain-dead from a stroke-like condition called vertebral artery dissection. Experts hired by his wife said that with proper treatment, he would have had a 90% chance of recovery.

Defending the doctrine

Feres supporters say the doctrine is necessary to protect the military from costly, time-consuming trials that could compromise military discipline. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former fighter pilot, called Feres "a reasonable approach to ensuring that litigation does not interfere with the objectives and readiness of our nation's military."

For years, the Department of Justice and the Pentagon have joined forces to fend off legal and legislative challenges to Feres.

"Nobody wants some judge meddling in military matters," Paul Harris, then a deputy associate attorney general, told a Senate committee in 2002. "It would have dire implications."

Harris, now in private practice, said he stood by his position that "it would be unconscionable to subject the military to an adversarial civil trial process."

But fresh attempts to repeal Feres are in the works, spurred in part by the case of Marine Sgt. Carmelo Rodriguez. In January, a CBS News TV crew had just arrived to interview him when Rodriguez -- holding the hand of his 7-year-old son -- died. Rodriguez, 29, an Iraq war veteran from New York, had been ravaged by cancer that he and his family blamed on years of misdiagnoses.

Military doctors had mistaken a deadly melanoma for a wart.

His case prompted Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.) to promise renewed efforts to overturn Feres. Previous bills have passed easily in the House but died in the Senate.

"No service member should ever become sick or die as the result of poor military medical care," Hinchey said. "I believe our military has outstanding doctors, but if those doctors fail our men and women in uniform, then there must be some system of accountability."

Military is 'sole remedy'

One former military doctor told The Times that military medical staffs were well aware that Feres shielded them from malpractice claims by active-duty patients or their survivors.

The doctor, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, served on the medical staff at Travis Air Force Base. He said staff shortages were chronic there and at other Air Force installations where he worked.

Under such circumstances, he said, "they'll take anyone."

James B. Smith, a New Jersey lawyer who served as a military trial judge during a 30-year service career, said the theory behind Feres was that since the military provided full medical care for members and lifelong veterans benefits, there was little practical need for financial damages for malpractice. "The military is already providing for you, and that's your sole remedy," Smith said.

The 1950 Feres decision encompassed three separate cases. One involved a soldier named Rudolph J. Feres who died in a fire caused by a faulty barracks heating system. The others were the victims of medical malpractice. One had sued after a towel nearly 3 feet long was discovered in his abdomen, left there by military surgeons.

The court was interpreting the Federal Tort Claims Act, which gives citizens a limited right to sue the government for wrongs resulting from the actions of federal employees or agencies.

But the Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Robert H. Jackson, reasoned that active-duty members of the military could seek other remedies for such wrongs, including Veterans Administration benefits. "The compensation system, which normally requires no litigation, is not negligible," Jackson wrote.

The Supreme Court came within a single vote of overturning Feres in 1987. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the dissenting opinion for the four-member minority: "Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the 'widespread, almost universal criticism' it has received."

Among the curious aspects of Feres is that it bars malpractice suits by active-duty military personnel but not by their spouses or other family members, who also are entitled to treatment at military hospitals.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Washington-based lawyer Eugene Fidell. "If a doctor malpractices on a dependent on one day, the family can sue. But if he commits the same malpractice the next day on a GI, they can't."

An investigative panel convened by the Air Force shortly after Witt's surgery concluded in its still-unreleased report that "due to assignments, deployments and recent ill health," the anesthesia unit at the Travis Air Force Base hospital was badly understaffed.

"There is insufficient manning to support operational tempo and the teaching mission of the hospital," the report said. It found that the authorized complement of seven anesthesiologists was down to four available for duty.

"This medical incident was due to an avoidable error," the report said. "The practice of anesthesia at a medical center should not rely on the minimum standard."

In response, Travis officials said the hospital could increase its anesthesia unit only if the Pentagon provided additional personnel. Base officials declined to comment on any aspect of the Witt case, citing privacy restrictions.

Legal challenge

Despite the long legal odds, Witt's widow, Alexis, is determined to challenge Feres in court. This month she was formally notified that her administrative claim against the Air Force had been declined, an expected rejection that exhausted all options but litigation.

"As a family," said her sister Carmen Voegeli, a Marine veteran, "we have a right to know what happened. How dare the military use these men and take away their rights."

One haunting coincidence that could be a factor in the Witt family's challenge of Feres involves a nurse anesthetist who helped treat the airman. After Witt's death, her license was revoked by the state of California for "negligence and/or incompetence."

The same anesthetist had been on duty a year earlier when 22-year-old Texas airman Christopher White died after routine surgery on his shoulder. As in the Witt case, post-surgery care of White was criticized by the state nursing board.

White's family did not try to take legal action. If it had, that might have brought attention sooner to problems in the anesthesia unit.

His father, Harris White, said lawyers had advised him that he could not sue because of the Feres doctrine.

April 11, 2008

Veteran Battles Pentagon's Vaccine, Seeks "Justice for All"


Veteran Battles Pentagon's Vaccine
Thursday, 10 April 2008, 10:25 am
Column: Thomas D. Williams

Veteran Battles Pentagon's Vaccine, Seeks "Justice for All"

By Thomas D. Williams
t r u t h o u t | Report

US Air Force Reserve Maj. Thomas "Buzz" Rempfer, a 43-year-old Connecticut native, is hoping he is nearing the end of nearly a decade's perpetual and unprecedented battle with the Pentagon over the legality, safety and effectiveness of mandatory anthrax vaccinations.

His and others' efforts have already netted favorable federal court rulings. They invalidated the original Department of Defense mandate and the vaccine's initial licensing.

Now Rempfer, formerly of West Suffield, Connecticut, and now of Tucson, Arizona, awaits a ruling from the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records. The board could award him back pay for lost time and promotions in the Air National Guard. If the board does not, he is likely to appeal back to the federal court. It was that court which decided in his favor by forcing another ruling from the Air Force panel.

However, much more significant to Rempfer is a broader public service goal. Rempfer and his deceased close friend, US Air Force Reserve Maj. Russell "Russ" E. Dingle, both pilots, fought their battle for others adversely affected by the vaccine. It was their belief that any victory, legally, must become a crucial military servicewide precedent, clearing all other vaccine-resisting veterans from punishment. Rempfer is acting as executor of Dingle's East Hartford, Connecticut, estate.

In more than five years of research, Dingle and Rempfer concluded the anthrax vaccine was improperly licensed and ineffective. They found it created thousands of adverse reactions and was unnecessary. The threat of a foreign anthrax attack is extremely remote, they discovered. And, if there ever is such an attack, those exposed can take antibiotics afterward, they confirmed. That would avoid six anthrax vaccinations over 18 months as well as annual booster shots.

Significantly, the infamous 2001 anthrax powder attacks, killing five people and sickening 17 others after 9/11, were domestic and not foreign in nature. They were allegedly inspired by laboratory insiders who mailed the powder to the offices of two US senators, a number of national news offices in New York City, and elsewhere. The incidents are still under active FBI investigation.

That probe, says Fox News, recently identified three or four new suspects at an Army bioweapons lab intricately involved in helping to support the need for the mandated vaccine. They include a deputy commander, an anthrax scientist and a microbiologist. Curiously, at that point in time, the vaccine's continued use was being threatened by closer scrutiny from the US Department of Defense and other Bush administration officials. That review withered away after the attacks. However, the DOD then used the domestic incidents to claim the foreign threat was "real." and

In the years before and after those episodes, Dingle's and Rempfer's findings that the vaccine was improperly licensed and thus unnecessarily mandated were eventually vindicated by a combination of a federal judge's rulings and subsequent events. After the two officers' initial investigations, the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the vaccine's systemic adverse reaction rate was 100 times higher than the 0.2 percent rate reported on the product's label.

Adverse vaccine reactions include immune disorders, muscle and joint pains, headaches, rashes, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, chills and fever. At least half a dozen deaths and a warning against birth defects were listed on the vaccine's January 31, 2002, package insert, but they have never been proven to be vaccine-related. The vaccine is not recommended for use by pregnant women or for those who have experienced a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. And, last October, the GAO identified a potential $100 million in government waste annually. The anthrax vaccine stockpile for civilian emergencies had been improperly administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, the GAO report said.

Rempfer said he does not want to comment about the prospective Air Force panel's ruling. He said full attention now must be on restoring the honor and the health of all the dedicated servicemen and women who were either punished for refusing to comply with the illegal order to take the vaccine, or who became sick from it. If the Air Force panel rules in Rempfer's favor, the simple, overwhelming legal question will be: how can two military officers win damage awards and nullify their punishments for refusing the vaccine without all others similarly disciplined being cleared as well?

Despite scores of protests against the vaccine nationwide, hundreds of military service members have been punished to varying degrees for failing to obey orders to be vaccinated. Some have been court-martialed, others fined or demoted and still others removed from the service. Most prolonged attempts to resist or overturn the penalties have met with failure. And yet, a federal survey in 2002 indicated that "two-thirds of the Guard and reserve pilots and air crew members did not support DOD's mandatory (anthrax vaccinations) or any future immunization programs planned for other biological warfare agents."

Meanwhile, thousands of service members have developed sicknesses, some extremely debilitating, that have been linked by them or others to one or more of the six-shot vaccine series or the annual boosters.

Rempfer's and Dingle's efforts marked one of the most prolonged, persistent high-level bureaucratic military policy fights waged in modern times. Three other former military service members, Paul A. Sullivan of Cedar Park, Texas; Doug Rokke of Rantoul, Illinois, and Denise Nichols, a North Carolina resident, all veterans of the first Iraq war, are known likewise for incredible persistence in the face of the powerful and intractable federal bureaucracy. They, as well, continue, after more than a decade of work, to lobby the Pentagon and the US Department of Veterans Affairs for failing to recognize veterans' hazardous exposures to deadly chemicals as well as the dust from explosions of US depleted uranium munitions.

In their own struggle, Rempfer and Dingle pressed and complained their way through almost every branch of state and federal government during two presidential administrations. They were supported by others, including retired Air Force Lt. Col. John Richardson, of Pittsboro, North Carolina, Maine's Dr. Doctor Meryl Nass and Washington, DC, attorneys John J. "Lou" Michaels and Mark S. Zaid. As their mission progressed, they picked up the continuing support of Connecticut's Democratic attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, and US Rep. Christopher Shays, a Stamford, Connecticut, Republican. Both Blumenthal and Shays attempted unsuccessfully to block use of the controversial vaccine.

"Two federal judges have now confirmed the Pentagon broke the law by forcing service members to take anthrax vaccine from 1998 to late 2005," said Richardson, a 1991 Gulf War F-16 pilot. "The military could have lawfully used the vaccine all along simply by asking the president to waive service members' right to informed consent about the risks of this dangerous vaccine," he said. "Instead, military and civilian leaders willfully misled the troops to protect Presidents Clinton and Bush - not the troops."

"Since 2005," Richardson said, "mandating the vaccine is now lawful only because of the FDA's willingness to ignore clear evidence in military medical records of the deaths and disabilities associated with the anthrax vaccine. Just as the government misled the American people about the threat from Iraqi anthrax and the source of the anthrax letter attacks, it continues to mislead the troops about the safety and efficacy of the anthrax vaccine."

Blumenthal jumped into the vaccine fray again three years ago by filing a friend of the court brief in a federal lawsuit brought by six anonymous service members challenging the drug. At that time, he said: "Major Rempfer has performed an extraordinary public service, a very noble and significant service in alerting the nation to the dangers of the anthrax vaccine at a time of tremendous stress on our military. He has selflessly stepped forward and volunteered to serve his country.... He has unquestioned expertise and skill as well as impressive dedication and patriotism."

But Rempfer, who is writing a book on the vaccine dispute, has always credited Dingle with the critical research, ultimately leading to federal court rulings temporarily blocking mandatory vaccine use. "Lt. Col. Dingle's career," Rempfer wrote in an obituary, "was uniquely distinguished by his noble advocacy for soldier's health rights, testifying as an expert witness for the US Congress in 1999, as well as serving as an expert for the Government Accountability Office and the Connecticut Attorney General's Office. He is missed dearly, but we will eternally benefit from his life's accomplishments, courage, service, leadership, and most importantly, his honor."

Dingle considered the vaccine program and its punishments incredibly unjust. He wrote: "When the US military no longer allows for professional dissent within its ranks; when the US military mandates that any and all orders be obeyed regardless of their moral or legal basis; when the US military allows its members to defend themselves with 'I was just following orders,' then the US military will cease to attract men and women of principal and honor.... It will end up resembling the military organizations that we have fought for the last 60 years."

In October 1998, Dingle and Rempfer first became "Tiger Team Alpha." Col. Walter Burns, a former commander of the 103rd Fighter Wing of the Connecticut Air National Guard, created the two-man team to investigate the history, safety and legality of the anthrax vaccine. The antigens stimulating immunity had been mandated for all 2.4 million military service members only weeks earlier. After a couple of months' of intensive research, Dingle and Rempfer concluded the vaccine was improperly licensed, and potentially a health danger to the troops. Those findings are still supported by many today. (Original Tiger Team Alpha Research)

However, BioPort Corporation, now Emergent BioSolutions, the vaccine's manufacturer, insists the drug is safe and effective. That position is fully endorsed by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Pentagon. Nonetheless, the manufacturer's health warnings and precautions are intricate, including what are characterized as rare, unproven serious reactions.

The vaccine has a long history of controversy over its safety and licensing dating back to before the 1991 Gulf War, and especially in the years after the conflict, when scores of service members taking it complained of adverse reactions. BioPort purchased the vaccine and its plant in 1998 from the former Michigan Biologics Products Institute, created in 1996 by the State of Michigan. That purchase inspired its own public flak.

Two of the purchasers were formerly part of the state operations. A third was former US Adm. William Crowe, first head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under former President George H.W. Bush, then ambassador to Great Britain in the presidential administration of Bill Clinton. Crowe was said by ABC News to have acquired his interest without investing a penny of his own money.

His influential ownership interest was useful politically and security-wise, since Fuad El-Hibri, a Lebanese Arab with German and US citizenship with lengthy business experience became the company's CEO.

Despite the Tiger Team's thumbs down on injections, Colonel Burns decided it was unwise to oppose the across-the-board mandate announced by then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Ironically, it was US Senator Cohen who ten years earlier had participated in a Congressional investigation deeming that the very same vaccine had classically created too many adverse reactions and was ineffective for inhalation exposures.

As a result of Burns's decision, half a dozen pilots, rejecting the vaccine in light of Dingle's and Rempfer's probe, were forced out of the National Guard in January 1999. Rempfer and Dingle were then pressured to resign. Despite their loss of National Guard status, Rempfer and Dingle switched to the Air Force Reserve where their superiors promoted them. Rempfer continues to fly today.

Dingle, 49, died of cancer in September 2005 after retiring from the Reserve. His double career included more than 16 years of service as a pilot and captain for American Airlines in the Boeing 767 and 737 and the McDonnell-Douglas S-80, and 21 years as an instructor pilot and flight commander in the Air Force.

Eleven months after Burns banished them, Blumenthal tried to force reinstatements for all of the pilots. But then State Adjutant Gen. William Cugno denied the request, and Republican Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell refused to back up Blumenthal's opinion.

Rempfer and Dingle began their complaint to clear their names in the US Court of Claims three years ago. It ultimately moved into the federal court and finally to Air Force adjudicators. The two men insisted they were "coerced" out of the Guard in the spring of 1999 by Colonel Burns, their former commander, after their vaccine inquiry. Yet, it was an investigation Burns himself had requested, and it showed the vaccine was improperly licensed. At the time, Burns insisted Rempfer, Dingle and six other pilots resigned on their own with "no bad blood." But Rempfer has produced a transcript of Burns's comments saying the word "traitor" came to mind when Burns thought about their resistance to taking the vaccine. Burns nonetheless simultaneously admitted the vaccine had its problems.

On March 14, Washington, DC, US District Judge James Robertson remanded Rempfer's and Dingle's complaint back to the Air Force panel, which had rejected Rempfer's appeal to rescind his and Dingle's punishment. The panel failed to properly consider the evidence before it, Robertson ruled. Robertson's decision followed an April 2005 finding from US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, inspired in part by Rempfer's, Dingle's and their colleagues' extensive research. Sullivan temporarily halted the Defense Department mandatory anthrax vaccine inoculations for all 2.4 million service members. They had been initially ordered in 1998 by former US Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

Sullivan declared that the anthrax vaccine is being used for an unapproved purpose and thus is "an investigational drug." It was initially approved for combating anthrax obtained through human skin contact with animals, yet it is instead being used for manufactured anthrax spores inhaled through the nose, he said. It thus requires consent from those vaccinated, he wrote. However, the judge left untouched an emergency authorization from federal health officials which allowed voluntary vaccinations. Sullivan's edict required that service members be told about the unlicensed drug's possible side effects, and ordered the consent of those soldiers, sailors and airmen if they were to be vaccinated. He decided the vaccine was not licensed property for its intended military use and remanded the complaint back to the FDA for remedial action. His final order was issued April 6, 2005.

Later, the FDA made vaccine licensing adjustments to comply with Sullivan's orders, and after a mandatory vaccine hiatus, allowed mandatory vaccinations to be restarted. The forced inoculations continue today, even though Rempfer and seven other servicemen brought still another federal court lawsuit challenging the FDA's remedial license changes. Their challenge was rejected February 29 by Washington, DC, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who ruled the FDA had not acted "arbitrarily or capriciously."

Four decades ago, the vaccine was largely used by agricultural workers, veterinarians and some in the wool industry. It had been scientifically tested and manufactured to protect veterinarians and those in the leather industry against skin-to-skin wound contact with infected farm animals. An initial scientific study in 1962 included an insufficient number of inhalation exposures of those working in goat hair mills to reach any conclusions of the vaccine's effectiveness.

Yet, once the military began to use it, the vaccine was aimed at protecting service members against inhalation of manufactured anthrax spores spread by enemy explosions or devices. Defense Secretary Cohen and other federal officials supporting the vaccine pointed to its successful scientific tests with animals. But the laboratory animals' health, ultimately, was not closely observed for as long a time as armed service veterans claiming sicknesses from inoculations were. Also, some of animal tests were inconclusive.

Despite the forced vaccinations, history reveals no successful enemy attacks worldwide - only an unsuccessful Tokyo spore release from a building laboratory by the terrorist group known as the Aum Shinrikyo cult in June 1993. Again, according to the FBI, the US mail and other anthrax spore attacks soon after the 9/11 terror attacks were reported by the FBI to be inspired by a domestic lab operation. Anthrax powder is very expensive and dangerous to manufacture, while some other unrelated biological agents are more easily created in the lab. Those exposed to the US spores in 2001 were successfully treated with ciprofloxacin or doxycycline antibacterial drugs. Yet, government officials still insisted some exposed to the deadly anthrax powder should be vaccinated, even though the vaccine is not said to be effective after spore exposure.

The attacks came at a time when the vaccine's effectiveness was being questioned on a number of fronts. For instance, at the time, the GAO's inquiry found: "Diplomatic security officials in the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency analysts agree that they have no clear evidence that US missions or interests overseas are threatened by foreign state or terrorist attacks using biological or chemical agents at this time."

While the vaccine is the only one to be mandated by the Pentagon and other US agencies to protect against such attacks, there are twenty to thirty known similar potentially deadly, infective biological agents available in many countries. And, the anthrax vaccine is inappropriate for all of them. Some 18 of them are listed by the Federation of American Scientists.

Thomas "Dennie" Williams is a former state and federal court reporter, specializing in investigations, for the Hartford Courant. Since the 1970s, he has written extensively about irregularities in the Connecticut Superior Court, Probate Court systems for disciplining both judges and lawyers for misconduct, and failures of the Pentagon and the VA to assist sick veterans returning from war. (He can be reached at denniew@optonline).