PREPARED FOR THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Committee on Government Reform
12 Oct 99
Mr. Chairman, it is truly an honor to appear before your committee and to be given the opportunity to testify. I am a major on active duty in the United States Air Force. I am here today in response to your invitation seeking my views and experiences with regards to the AVIP. The views expressed in my testimony are my own and not meant to be taken as those of the DOD or the Air Force.
I have longed to be an Air Force pilot since the age of four, when I first saw the Thunderbirds perform at an air show. This life long dream kept me focused throughout high school, college, and flight school. I now have a wife and three kids. My youngest child, Seth, is autistic, which makes my conviction on this issue even stronger. Because Seth may need my support when he is an adult, I am committed to do everything in my power to sustain a long and healthy life.
When I received orders to go to Dover AFB I was aware that the anthrax vaccine might be required for mobility status. In fact, during my out-processing at Randolph AFB, I went to the immunization clinic to get all my shots for worldwide service. I expected to get the anthrax vaccine on that day. However, the technician said I did not need the anthrax vaccine for worldwide service and if Dover AFB required it, then I would get it there. This is an important point because I am describing how I did not have the concerns about the anthrax vaccine until after I witnessed the sickness at Dover AFB.
UNUSUAL ILLNESSES AT DOVER AFB
I was previously stationed at DAFB for three years (Nov 1993-Dec 1996); no unusual rates of illnesses were evident during my tenure. However, within the first week after reporting for duty this past August, I learned of several people who had strange illnesses. Everyone I spoke with linked their problem to the anthrax vaccine, since they were healthy before receiving the shot. This concerned me so I asked about the anthrax vaccine program during my first meeting with the squadron commander. He seemed very open and objective about the issue and recommended I do my own research if I have any concerns. He did confirm that this was a mandated program and reminded me of the consequences of those who refuse it.
My research began by talking to people that were grounded. (See Attachment 1 - List of People With Unusual Illnesses) As such, I have found that 12 people, in my squadron alone, have unusual or disabling illnesses that did not exist prior to the anthrax vaccine and the causes are unknown. My conversations with these individuals bring to light obvious health and safety concerns. Medically diagnosed conditions of thyroid damage, liver damage, external and internal cysts (including cysts around the heart), autoimmune disorders, crippling bone/joint pain, seizures, memory loss, vertigo, and inability to concentrate have been documented. In addition, there are as many as 60 cases of such unusual illnesses at DAFB, a statistic recently confirmed by an official that testified before your subcommittee earlier this year. The common denominator in these cases is that all those suffering were inoculated with the anthrax vaccine. It defies logic to ignore the anthrax vaccine as causal in a majority, if not all, of these illnesses.
In all my life I have never seen sickness in this magnitude, especially in a group of people that should be physically fit for battle. Something is wrong. Its as if it is snowing in the summer and no one wants to acknowledge it.
This is not the military that I know. Physical fitness and soldiering go hand in hand. Until now, in my 13 years of service, at five different bases, I have witnessed only one person become afflicted with a serious and unusual illness. If my squadron health figures represented the norm, then approximately 4.4 percent of our military force would be disabled due to these strange illnesses. I hope there are not 101,000 active duty, reserve, and guard troops currently disabled with strange illnesses. If a local community or neighborhood had over 4 percent of their population effected by undefined illnesses, I am sure the people would be demanding answers.
Last week, I again expressed my concern to my squadron commander and he sent me to the Area Defense Council. They told me that a precedent had been set in that I might not be afforded the opportunity to put on a defense if I refuse the vaccine. The attorney said that they may try to make an example of me because of my rank and I may have to serve up to two years in prison. When I told my wife this she began to cry. After five military moves in thirteen years, and all the sacrifices she has made, how could I look at her without an answer? No one wants answers to this bizarre situation more than I do.
LACK OF MEDICAL SUPPORT
Aircrew members are afraid they will be grounded and then not cared for properly by our medical staff. One pilot in our squadron told me a doctor used the term "malingerer" when describing her slow recovery process. Nothing could be more insulting to this officer who has suffered from an autoimmune disorder and thyroid damage after she received the anthrax vaccine.
Our flight surgeons appear to have marching orders not to investigate the cause of all these illnesses. The company line from the medical field is, "I do not know what caused the illness, but I do know it wasnt from the anthrax vaccine". The only person in the medical community that had the conviction and integrity to come forward was our patient advocate. He claims, "[he] has been ostracized by the medical community." He now is adversely paying for his belief in what the AF calls "The Core Values".
One flight surgeon told me that there have been 62 VAERS reports filed, but he believes some of them are sympathetic. Maybe the doctors do not understand that our crewmembers, especially our enlisted, need to fly to keep from losing their flight pay. Therefore, the idea of grounding oneself for sympathetic reasons just does not make sense.
RISK MANAGEMENT IN THE MILITARY
Safety issues must be addressed. Many people at this base are experiencing symptoms, which impede their performance to a degree that may be hazardous. Memory loss, dizziness, and an inability to concentrate, to the acute degree that these people describe, are dangerous symptoms in a soldiers line of work. One pilot described his short-term memory loss as "not remembering a conversation that took place twenty minutes earlier." At the time, this pilot was on flying status. This type of memory lapse problem could lead to catastrophe in aviation.
I am willing to accept the understood risks associated with military service. These risks are normally considered to be direct, with the results being realized fairly soon after the action taken. Typical examples are getting injured or killed on the job, during an exercise, or in actual combat. One of the more glamorous Air Force examples of accepting risk is the test pilot mission. However, how many young people will desire to be like Chuck Yeager when they realize the "new age" risks might include taking part in medical research without their consent.
I have been trained to manage risks to avoid undue harm. I do believe in the military structure, and the importance of following lawful orders. Congress should draft legislation to require a soldiers consent to participate in medical research.
MISREPRESENTATION OF THE ANTRHAX VACCINE
The office of the Secretary of Defense Anthrax Vaccine web page states, "Since 1970, it has been safely and routinely administered to at-risk wool mill workers, veterinarians, laboratory workers, and livestock handlers in the United States." However, I have found that civilian doctors and veterinarians, in general, do not have experience with this vaccine and do not know how to acquire it. I have personally called numerous civilian veterinarian and medical doctors to see what they know about the anthrax vaccine. Not one, including the Chief Veterinarian for the State of Delaware, had ever received or administered the anthrax vaccine, nor do they know how to acquire it.
Some leaders have used the analogy of comparing the anthrax vaccine to a helmet. And they say it would be a dereliction of duty to send troops into battle without the helmet and/or the anthrax vaccine. This argument is misleading. I have a helmet; it is called a chemical warfare suit.
The FDA approval is not an issue for me. A hamburger may be FDA approved, but if the processing plant is negligent, the consumer may pay with his life.
POSSIBLE CONTAMINATION OF THE ANTHRAX VACCINE
There is an on-going controversy over the sterility and purity of the anthrax vaccine. The February 1998 FDA inspection report states;
In Dr. Meryl Nass 30 Sep 99 Written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, she writes;
Dr. Nass 15 page testimony referenced above along with the FDAs 79 page report, reveal compelling evidence that the current vaccine out in the field may be suspect to contamination.
WHY I AM AGAINST THIS ANTHRAX VACCINE
NEED FOR STANDARD PROCESS FOR THOSE WHO REFUSE
There is even controversy over the process for those refusing this vaccine. A naval officer in California is given a swift HONORABLE discharge, while others are spending time in jail and receiving less than honorable discharges. Has the DoD admitted guilt by giving the naval officer an honorable discharge for refusing this vaccine? There are several other examples of inconsistencies across the nation. As I explained earlier, I might face a two-year prison sentence. I do not want a dishonorable discharge. I do not want an honorable discharge. I want an honorable military.
Our leadership seems desensitized to the illnesses at our base. The anthrax program appears to be taking precedence over the people. Make the vaccine voluntary and see how many people really believe in it.
Congressional investigations have uncovered several examples of how the military has experimented on its own people (Congressional Staff Report 103-97). Congress must put a stop to this. A line has to be drawn on how far the military can go when it comes to tampering with a persons health.
How will this issue affect potential new recruits if the situation is not corrected? Most new recruits understand and are willing to accept the risks of being injured or killed while accomplishing the mission of the Air Force. However, most people would steer away from a military career if they thought they might be subject to medical research without their consent. At the rate the guard and reserves are losing people, I am sure the recruiting offices are faced with an extraordinary challenge to fill these open positions.
On September 29, 1999 the committee was told that there was not a retention problem. However, 60 reserve pilots have quit at Dover AFB alone. I have confirmed this with long time friends in the reserves and by calling the operations officer and asking if there were any vacancies.
I feel fortunate that we are early enough in this program for Congress to take appropriate and timely action. It is amazing how before the anthrax vaccine people at this base did not suffer from undefined illnesses. Although evidence linking Dovers unusual illnesses to the anthrax vaccine is circumstantial, I would like to end with a 1974 quote by the then Senator William S. Cohen about drawing inferences properly, during a debate relating to the impeachment of President Nixon "If you went to sleep on the ground outside here, and woke up with fresh snow on the ground, certainly you would reasonably conclude that snow had fallen during the night even if you did not see it." I couldnt agree more.
Again, I thank you for giving me this opportunity to testify
Sonnie Bates, Maj, USAF
Attachment 1 - List of People With Unusual Illnesses
(Asterisk indicates individual has allowed me to release their name upon request)
The following is a list of people that I have first hand knowledge of that are suffering from diverse illnesses at Dover Air Force Base
Personnel with strange illnesses in the 9th Airlift Squadron
Has been grounded for several months. She was healthy before receiving the anthrax vaccine. Suffers from autoimmune disorder. Has sustained thyroid damage.
Has been grounded for several months after taking the fourth shot. He was healthy before receiving the anthrax vaccine. He developed cysts on numerous places on the inside and outside of his body, to include his heart. He has undergone surgery to remove some of the cysts and was hooked up to an IV for six weeks. He says the medical group is working on a waiver to get him back on flying status, even though he still has the cysts around his heart. He is afraid for his future. He is afraid that he will never fly again in the military or as a civilian. He said the flight doctor did eventually hand him a VAERs report and told him that she was going against her instructions to do so, but she thought he should fill one out anyway.
Being treated for an autoimmune disorder.
Has been grounded for several months. He was healthy before receiving the anthrax
vaccine. He has been suffering from crippling bone/joint pain and ringing in the ears. The
pain is so bad he cannot climb the steps to get into the airplane. He has been battling
various infections continuously during these past several months and has developed new
allergies in the past one month. Has been in physical therapy for three months with no
After the fourth vaccine he began to experience diverse symptoms, which included chronic bone/joint pain, chronic fatigue, and a loss of ability to concentrate. He has been cross-trained into another, less demanding career field.
Technical xxxxxxxxx Active Duty C-5 Flight Engineer
Has been grounded for eight months after receiving the vaccine. Has experienced eight seizures. Other symptoms include crippling bone/joint pain, memory lapses, ringing in the ears, dizziness, and an inability to concentrate.
ATTACHMENT 1 continued
Technical Sgt xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx - Active Duty C-5 Flight Engineer
Has autoimmune disorder.
Master Sgt (ret) xxxxx Retired C-5 Flight Engineer
During his retirement ceremony the squadron commander described how he became ill and was grounded during his last months of service.
Staff Sgt XXXXXXX Active Duty C-5 Loadmaster
He was healthy until receiving the anthrax vaccine. Now he suffers from tuberculosis of the bones.
* Staff Sgt xxxxxxxxxxxx Active Duty C-5 Loadmaster
He experienced chronic bone/joint after receiving the vaccine. He said his arms frequently go numb. Filed a VAERS report. He has been grounded for so long the medical group has questioned him about a medical discharge. However, he is not interested in a medical discharge because he has been in the military for over 17 years and does not want to lose his pension.
* A1C xxxxxx Active Duty Mission Control Specialist
She was healthy prior to the anthrax vaccination. After the second shot she started experiencing episodes of vertigo, ringing of the ears, and memory lapses. She has had five vertigo episodes, described as being so severe that she couldnt walk. The vertigo has ceased since the vaccine has stopped and she is on a waiver to not receive any more anthrax vaccine until her health improves. She said that the anthrax issue is one reason why she plans on not re-enlisting.
Captain XXXXXXX - Reserve C-5 Pilot
Since receiving the vaccine, he has experienced headaches, dizzy spells, short-term memory loss, and bed spins. These symptoms lasted for about a month. He has received a waiver so that he doesnt have to take the vaccine for another year. The medical group ruled out a brain tumor. Oddly enough, before a brain tumor was ruled out and after the dizziness stopped, he was allowed to fly.
3rd Airlift Squadron
Captain XXXXXXX Active Duty C-5 Pilot
Became very ill after receiving the vaccine and experiencing short-term memory loss. He also said that his wife had recently become extremely ill. An Electro Dermal Scan revealed heavy traces of anthrax in his blood. His wife's blood also showed traces of anthrax.
Attachment 2 Congressional Testimony by Major Bates
Stance of the United Methodist Church
The Air Force has taken a stance on denying requests for waivers based religious objections, unless the religious organization does not accept all vaccines. This is an unjust policy. According to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, Copyright 1992, page 97, paragraph 72k:
There has been no research on the long-term health effects of the anthrax vaccine. The Department of Defense is currently studying the adverse affects of the vaccine, which puts the drug in research status. Congressional Staff report 103-97 states the following when addressing the animal studies conducted on this vaccine:
Therefore, any member of the United Methodist or other church with similar bylaws should be able to request a waiver from this vaccine based on religious objection.