ANTHRAX VACCINE: Air Force Pilot Waives Hearing
Major Sonnie Bates, the Air Force pilot who is refusing orders to take an anthrax vaccine waived his right to a military hearing that was slated for yesterday at Dover Air Force Base. Bates said he fears the vaccine would threaten his health, and, in a letter to the officer who would have presided over his hearing, he wrote that the Air Force was attempting to use the proceeding as a stage to "publicize the safety of the vaccine." Pointing to four of five scheduled Air Force witnesses who "had medical background and no firsthand knowledge of the charge he faces, refusing a lawful order," Bates wrote, "The true purpose of the testimony of those witnesses was to further the Department of Defense's public relations campaign in support of the supposed safety of the anthrax vaccine." The Department of Defense ordered that all active and reserve military personnel take the vaccine because anthrax is a "chief toxin" often used in biological warfare. Officials argue that it has been proven safe by studies, but Bates cites "unofficial" and "anecdotal" evidence otherwise. An Air Force colonel now will decide if the charge against Bates should be dropped or if he should be court- martialed. If court-martialed, he could receive up to five years in prison and dismissal from the Air Force (Ordine, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/4).
Gulf War Illness
In other military news, despite shelling out $121 million for research last year into the mysterious Gulf War illness, "[b]asic questions about [its] causes, course of development and treatments ... remain unanswered." A report from the General Accounting Office notes that 151 completed or ongoing federal research projects have failed to provide satisfactory information on various questions, including: "how many veterans are receiving compensation for unexpected illnesses or symptoms; how many are receiving health care; what medical treatments are being used; and whether those receiving federal health care are getting any better." Investigators and doctors also continue having difficulties identifying many veterans' illnesses because federal defense agencies, such as the Pentagon, cannot pinpoint which dangerous chemicals they may have been exposed to." Bernard Rostker, who supervises the Pentagon's investigation into the illness, took issue with the GAO report, calling it "deceptively pessimistic." He contended that "[e]xtensive and effective research is improving medical treatment of veterans" (Williams, Hartford Courant, 2/4).