Saturday, March 15, 2008

Judge Keeps Anthrax Suit Alive

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge Friday kept alive a lawsuit in which two Connecticut Air National Guard pilots said they were forced to resign nine years ago for refusing to be vaccinated against anthrax.

An Air Force panel must spell out the reasons for denying the two compensation for back pay and lost promotions, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled.

One of the pilots, Russell Dingle, died in 2005 and he is represented in the lawsuit by the executor of his estate. The other Connecticut Air National Guard pilot is Thomas Rempfer.

A federal court blocked the Pentagon's anthrax vaccination program in 2003, ruling that the vaccine had not been licensed or approved for use against inhalation anthrax. Other courts have ruled differently, affirming the legality of involuntary anthrax vaccination.

Robertson relied on the ruling that halted the vaccination program, saying that at the time the two pilots were refusing an order by their superiors, "it was a violation of federal law for military personnel to be subjected" to involuntary inoculation against anthrax.

The Food and Drug Administration has made changes in the vaccine that resulted in another court ruling two weeks ago by another federal court. That decision concluded the Pentagon can require its troops to be vaccinated against anthrax.

In the lawsuit of Rempfer and Dingle, they were assigned to a unit whose job it was to investigate the Pentagon's anthrax vaccination program in the late 1990s.

Rempfer and Dingle raised questions about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, but they said there was no satisfactory response from those higher in the chain of command.

Faced with what they considered an illegal order to be vaccinated or face discipline, both sought reassignment to the U.S. Air Force Reserves and were honorably discharged.

Reports prepared by superiors never mentioned their duties or their objections to the anthrax program.

The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records must explain its conclusions about the claims by Rempfer and Dingle's family and about their demands for compensation, the judge ruled.

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