Posts Tagged ‘anthrax vaccine’

Somebody on CNN this morning asked if the situation at VA hospitals – waiting months for care and possibly being put on a secret waiting list – is a recent   development, almostCollage2 a singular incident, or if this is a systematic problem.

Oh, it’s more than systematic.  It’s endemic.  It’s embedded in the VA culture. Veterans don’t just wait months for care – they often wait years – and this has been the situation since at least Viet Nam, if not before.

Back in 2000, I started getting involved with the protests against the experimental, highly reactive, and sometimes deadly anthrax vaccine that was being forced on troops deployed to certain areas.  If they didn’t take this experimental drug they could – and usually did – receive a dishonorable discharge.  If they took the vaccine, and thousands upon thousands did, they might develop tumors and cysts, severe bone and joint pain, terrible, ongoing migraines, partial loss of vision or hearing, vertigo, grand mal seizures, sudden blood pressure spikes and drops; the women might hemorrhage and find themselves unable to bear children; the men might lose testosterone permanently.  The list is too long to repeat here.

And that would just be the beginning.  Trying to get medical-boarded out of the service with a reasonable disability rating would always be the first major bureaucratic hurdle.  In those days, the military refused to admit any connection between the vaccine and a service member’s subsequent disability; certainly military doctors didn’t understand or recognize the symptoms at the time. Too often, service members were told that their symptoms – many of which were invisible to an observer – were all in their head; they were told they had mental problems, or were depressed.  After going through months, and sometimes years, of not being believed about their illnesses, of trying to get through each day in terrible pain, I always thought it was perfectly natural for them to become depressed… that was a result of how they were treated, not a cause of their symptoms.

Once out of the service, getting treated by the VA was the next major hurdle.  The common rating for disability – if a person didn’t get in and fight it – was 10 percent.  Ten percent!!!  Almost nothing – for someone who could no longer carry out his military duties.  And the waiting period for treatment was usually two years.   — And that was if a service member lived close enough to a VA hospital to get the care needed. 

What happened in the meantime?  These disabled service members were not getting the treatment they needed, or were paying civilian doctors out of their own pockets trying to find answers.  Too often, they were unable to work.  They lost their jobs – they lost their cars – they lost their homes – and their marriages very often broke apart under the strain.  Not a few of them literally went to live in the woods, homeless and alone, and rejected by – us.  Those they serve.

What I’d like to know, Congress is this: why did it take you so damn long to notice?  Where have you been?  You say you support our troops, but after you issued the 1994 Rockefeller Report calling on the military to stop its medical experimentation on our service members – and included the anthrax vaccine in that last – you did nothing to enforce it.  We’re supposed to have civilian oversight of the military in this country, but those civilians we elect to the highest offices in the land do not seem to have spines – or eyes and ears.

So it takes a scandal like a secret list causing veterans to die while they wait before this suddenly becomes an issue.  I’ve got news for you, media people and Congress and Americans: our veterans have been dying for a long, long time waiting for the right care from the VA.  To make matters worse, some of those deaths are suicides – because nobody believed, or helped search for the right treatments.  It’s better to wait for a whole generation to die, we get that.  That’s why it’s only been in the last few years that Agent Orange was recognized as the presumptive cause of severe medical problems for the troops (http://www.banderasnews.com/1004/vl-davidlord05.htm).  Delay payment and responsibility for as long as humanly possible, then say, “Whoops.  We were wrong.”

My cynicism is hard-earned; most of it comes from the veterans themselves.  These problems didn’t just start; this is not a sudden, new development.  It’s been going on for years.  To this day, when veterans write in to us at www.mvrd.org,  we have to counsel them on how to work with, and sometimes fight with, the VA to get the disability ratings and the treatment they need.

Kick out Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shinseki? Accept Dr. Petzel’s resignation? Band-aid measures; these do nothing to address the real problems.  They inherited this mess, they didn’t cause it. The real problems have a lot more to do with how we proudly send our sons and daughters off to war, encouraging them to give all for their country – but don’t want to pay for it when they come back injured, debilitated, depressed, and permanently changed.  It’s part of the cost of war – the fact that our men and women come back disabled, sometimes with illnesses that are not visible.  It’s part of the deal, yet we seem to refuse to step up to the plate in a timely, caring manner. Meanwhile, too many veterans languish in their homes or homeless shelters – or in the woods – unable to continue to fight.


We think we support our troops and veterans in this country.  Not by half; not by half.


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Distractions from fear –James Bovard quote

The news has become overwhelming in recent months.  From the mass shootings in our public places to the first notice of a gun created entirely by a 3-D printer; from the tragic plane crash in San Francisco to the horrific loss of 19 Hotshot firefighters in Arizona – all around us, voices tell us to be afraid.  And they’re telling us we should not merely be afraid; we should be terrified — the world around us holds terrors from the minute we wake up in the morning.  I’ve said for many years that the most frequent headline in the media is some version of, “Could THIS happen to YOU?”

While not minimizing the tragedies of life, it seems to me that fear has a contagious hold on our society – but it is a different kind of fear than that rooted in the dangers of an accident or approaching wildfire.  This kind of fear takes root in a virulent way among some of us who have, perhaps, gotten lost in the echo chamber of the Internet or been too captivated by the evening news.  We tend to listen to opinions like our own and stories that feed our fear instead of gathering information and facts from multiple sources.  A young woman recently posted a suggestion on Facebook that we do without a president entirely and see how that works.  I teasingly wrote back and asked her if she was suggesting anarchy, and she wrote back “That’s what we have now.”  I told her if she’d ever been overseas and seen or lived with real anarchy, she wouldn’t say that.  There was no reply.

I felt in ways I was echoing a recent column by Leonard Pitts, Jr., the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes for the Miami Herald.  In his May 11, 2013 column, he examined what he aptly called “the great American panic machine,” which he described as “the mechanism by which the extreme right works itself into spasms of apoplectic terror over threats that don’t exist.”  But it’s not only the extreme right that gives into these spasms of terror; I think the phenomenon is widespread throughout our society right now among people of all political and religious persuasions.  Pitts goes on to give some examples:

“‘We’re going to be under shariah law!’

Except, we’re not.

‘We’ve become a socialist county!’

Except we haven’t.

‘There’s a war on Christmas!’

Except there isn’t.

‘They’re trying to take our guns away!’

Except that it is now theoretically possible for a mental patient to manufacture his own gun in the comfort of his aluminum foil-lined basement.”

That’s where the 3-D printer comes in; such a scenario could become quite real. The point that Pitts is making is one that becomes obvious even in this brief excerpt: we are so busy fighting imaginary terrors that we are not prepared for the real threats that do exist.

The media have been complicit in this arrangement for years.  Fear sells; scandal sells.  The unusual has come to be portrayed as the usual.  We have become a society that does not know the difference between news and entertainment, because the media have peddled “infotainment” to us for a long, long time.

We are inundated with scandal, mayhem and murder, natural disasters and more, until we are sure that is the normal run of our daily lives. And we are fascinated; we get to watch a never-ending horror story, and it captivates us.  It also makes us sure that what we are afraid of has taken over.  The old saying that you create what you fear seems all too relevant today.

At last year’s annual conference put on by my professional organization, the Public Relations Society of America, I started hearing a disturbing definition of the news given by some of the country’s most prestigious PR firms.  “News,” several of them said, “is what’s important enough to find me.”

Gulp.  That means news is what I prefer to see and hear, what I prefer to digest, what I find compatible with my values and opinions – or what most entertains me. News is contained in those keywords I enter into search engines to find out what I want to know, not necessarily what I should know.  We – you and I, the audience out there – are in control now.  I tell my students this, particularly when we study social media and what it means for public communication.

Is that healthy for us? To some degree, certainly: we can find information on nearly any subject we want now, and we have a much greater chance to build perspective and garner insight.  In addition, the concept of transparency has taken on a whole new meaning.  For most of us, doing something unethical or even illegal online means we have about 30 seconds of anonymity left – and that’s not always bad.

But in another sense, it’s one of the worst things that could have happened.  We are free to ignore news and opinions that we don’t like or that make us uncomfortable.  We are free to talk only with others who share our beliefs.  We are free to ignore history, to ignore anything we might ever have been taught about civic life or the structure of society in general. We can concentrate on the alarming, the sensational, the scandalous, and all those things which worry us and entertain us on a daily basis.

In short, we are free to give in to fear. And we do, regularly – you’ve probably heard about the 7-year-old suspended for gunplay using his hands (http://cbsloc.al/X3PPoT ).  When we give into fear, we also surrender to a sense of helplessness. We have learned that there’s really nothing we can do.  A recent Bill Moyers interview made this point (http://www.prx.org/pieces/99843-moyers-company-show-227-distracted-from-democra#description).   Media scholar Marty Kaplan, head of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, notes:  “We are paying attention to the wrong things… we are paying attention to infotainment, which is being spoon-fed to us – and sadly, we love the stuff.  The tragedy of journalism now is that it is demand-driven…   we have been taught to be helpless and jaded, rather than to feel empowered… ”

The consequences of giving into this contagion of fear are at least two-fold. First, we become numb to the next warnings coming down the pipeline, and so may ignore the whole issue of whatever is causing the need for an alarm to be sounded in the first place. Secondly, as Leonard Pitts so accurately states, we ignore or simply overlook those things that truly should cause fear in us. The fact that you can now print a gun using a 3D printer should alarm us, no matter which side of the gun control debate we are on; the erosion of our First Amendment rights continues apace; the corruption of our political system is something we look away from, helpless – and jaded.

I hear echoes of 1967, when Timothy Leary’s misunderstood mantra took hold of so many in my generation: “Turn on, tune in, drop out” – but with more literal electronic meanings today.

Is there anything we can do as individuals to make a difference?  My experience tells me there is.  Back in 2000, my son, then in the Air Force, was required to start the series of anthrax vaccine shots.  He and his wife were thoroughly alarmed, and asked me to look into it.  I happened to be visiting them between John’s first and second shots, and so one night I borrowed his computer and spent long hours researching.  At first, everything was reassuring.  However, the more I dug down through the pixels, the more alarmed I became.  Here was a vaccine that was not licensed; that did not have peer-reviewed, published research in back of it; that was causing multiple, severe, life-long health problems including grand mal seizures, complete loss of testosterone, severe hemorrhaging, tumors, cysts, severe bone and joint pain, and more – including death.

Long story short, I joined with others across the nation to protest.  Our protests – which included walking the halls of Congress – stayed largely within the military community.  We realized that it was only when people were personally affected that we would see a change in the civilian population.

Years later, there was a proposal to conduct an anthrax vaccine research program on children – civilian children.  It was soundly defeated.  All our years of trying to get the word out had paid off; people had seen our information online, they’d read the stories in the.  They knew enough to be alarmed – and they said no.

Wherever we are, whatever our interests, we can make a difference. We have to make a difference.  We need to get involved in our own corners of the world because even the smallest of actions can have a ripple effect.  Courage, faith and critical thinking can be just as contagious as fear.  Turn on, tune in – and engage.

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Collage2Got in last night from a wonderful week in San Diego at the PRSA International Conference, feeling saturated with new information, new friends, reunions with old friends, and thoughts about my last conference as a sitting member of the board of directors.  I rotate off the board in December, and have to say that it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had in my professional life.  Those who have given even a brief moment’s thought toward taking on a national leadership role in PRSA – do it.  You’ won’t regret it.

I’ll write more about the conference later, no doubt – but for now, my mind and heart are with our veterans.  Some of you know I’ve worked for the past nine years with active-duty service members and veterans concerning the mandatory, yet still experimental, anthrax vaccine.  The web site I run in support of that is http://www.mvrd.org – the Military Vaccine Resource Directory.  I’m behind on updating it as usual, but will be working on it today.  What I really want to say, which still astonishes and amazes me, is that those veterans whom I know personally, who have suffered incredibly from the effects of the anthrax vaccine – everything from grand mal seizures to loss of testosterone; from tumors and cysts to years of severe bone and joint pain; from continual migraine headaches to uncontrollable hemorrhaging and loss of the ability to bear children; from short-term memory loss to extreme weakness and fatigue – to a person, they say that if they could somehow be well once again, and if the military would stop demanding they take experimental bioterror vaccines and pills, they would still go back and serve our country.

For a moment there I paused at the end of that sentence, and thought “I don’t know that anything more needs to be said about the quality and devotion of our veterans.”

But something more does need saying.  These men and women, often medical-boarded out of the service with a too-low disability rating for what they have gone through, have had to wait up to two years and more to be seen by the VA.  In the meantime, they have to pay their own medical bills – if they can; if they don’t have to sell their cars in order to do so; if they don’t have to sell their homes in order to do so; if the can still somehow hold down a job, though many can’t; if their marriages can survive under the strain, though many don’t. 

When you see a veteran out on the street in your town, think about this.  He or she may not have been able to get proper medical care in time, and his or her once-familiar world fell apart, one piece at a time.  This is how we treat our veterans when they come home, when they become ill from a service-related action.  They’ve done their jobs; now they are disposable to us. 

Outrageous barely begins to cover it.  Don’t run around with a magnetic yellow ribbon on your car.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest veterans center or VA hospital, and ask what is needed.  You’ll gain far more than you give.

Thanks, veterans; thanks volunteers.  I hear from the DoD that there are huge efforts at work to enable a 120-day handoff between the active-duty medical system and the VA; that is still too long, but is certainly better than the years veterans have to wait now.  We need – we need desperately – to deal with the consequences of war.

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The last few weeks seem to have been filled with a tumult of activity and voices and Yachats beckoned once again.  Here on the Central Oregon Coast, life is quieter and slower; Yachats is one of the most undeveloped parts of the coast (the amazing restaurants here not withstanding), and the minute I am within view of the ocean, I start relaxing.

Each time I am here, the hours for quiet reflection and thought bring me to a deeper understanding of whatever has been driving me just before I came.  Today, walking on the beach with Bear as the tide receded, I realized that I feel greatly privileged to be teaching, and I feel greatly privileged to still work with veterans who are sick from the anthrax vaccine. 

The teaching end of the deal was something I decided just about six years ago, when I made up my mind to go back to school and get a Master’s degree so that I could make the career switch.  I feel lucky that I was able to tell Mom about the decision in August of that year, just two months before she passed away. I wasn’t totally sure what I would do yet, only that I wanted to go back on the ship (www.semesteratsea.org) and that I wanted to go back to school with the goal of teaching in mind.  She was thrilled about both ideas.  I did go back on the ship, briefly, for an alumni reunion cruise to the Bahamas a few years ago.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu was on board, and that alone made the trip an incredible experience.  But I also found out that, contrary to my experiences at 19 on my first voyage, by now it was entirely possible for me to get seasick.  Our first night out at sea after leaving Fort Lauderdale was “a wild and stormy night,” and the ship was tossed around pretty strongly.  I had to leave a meeting in the student union and go outside for some air, and got very little sleep.  I’m not sure that a four-month semester at sea is any longer in my best interest, though I’m certainly going to look at some of the shorter educational voyages that are held every year.

Back to teaching: I’m enjoying it three times more than I ever anticipated.  I love the interaction with students, even though it’s primarily online.  I love the thoughts and creativity that come my way across the keyboard.  I love our live chats, and the SKYPE calls.  I’m working on putting a video component into our online classes, but that might have to evolve a little bit more.  Nevertheless, teaching is an enormous pleasure and privilege.

Working with veterans and active-duty service members – something I’ve done for over nine years now – is also a wonderful privilege.  I spent the early years not knowing how to handle things emotionally; the knowledge that our government has conducted more than one medical experiment on the troops over the years, usually without their knowledge, is appalling and tragic.  I could not believe this was my country.  But I’m also an advocate of changing a country from within, not throwing up my hands and walking off.  The anthrax vaccine was then, and is now, an unproven, dangerous drug.  Just ask the FDA where the peer-reviewed, published research studies are; they only exist for the original cutaneous anthrax vaccine, not for the re-configured vaccine that is supposed to protect against inhalational, or aerosolized, anthrax.  The years of bungling, sheer stupidity, greed and blatant attempts to save face are documented on the web site I run, www.mvrd.org– the Military Vaccine Resource Directory.  The vaccines are on my mind because while I was walking on the beach this morning, I called a vet in Michigan who wrote to me last weekend detailing his massive problems since being forced to take the anthrax vaccine, in one e-mail writing, “PLEASE HELP ME.”  The phone call this morning was the third for fourth time we’ve been in touch this week. He won’t need me constantly; I have a network of people whom I can contact who can and will reach out to help him.  It’s a good, close, caring community, but it’s a tragic one.  It’s a community that should never have to exist.

While I’m on the beach, these thoughts are in my head, but they aren’t swirling and noisy as they so often are at home.  They go deeper and quieter.  The sound of the ocean is a steady rhythm against life here; and the beach reflects the entire cycle of life and death and the tides that bring both.  I think often of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gifts from the Sea,” and know what she meant.  Here – for someone who has spent a lifetime dealing with what it takes to establish those “mutually beneficial relationships” between a business or organization and its publics; who has studied and worked in public relations since 1980 – here my relationship with myself and the world around me settles into something peaceful and quiet.  Here I understand a lot more about the ties that bind.

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It all happened 40 years ago tomorrow, they say. The pundits and journalists and others who stand to profit somehow from the anniversary of Woodstock are acting as though everyone from my generation was either involved or must be nostaligic for the time and the event.
Not hardly. I remember all too well what my world was like 40 years ago tomorrow: I’d been married a week shy of a year, I was almost 4 months pregnant, and living with my in-laws in Walnut Creek, California. Unable to work, I went to school – junior college, specifically Diablo Valley Junior College. It was the second attempt at a college education that ended up spanning 13 years.
What was my mood then? I think I was just starting to feel the baby kick, and I remember the amazement of it all; I remember clearly, so clearly, being worried every single day that my unborn baby may not have a father, because my husband was overseas in Southeast Asia, fighting that war that everyone else was protesting. Did I protest? Are you kidding? There was no way I would have him be that demoralized. I wasn’t happy about anything that was going on; I didn’t understand war then, don’t understand war now, and have no wish to every see another member of my family face such a hell. Father, husband and son – that’s enough. They all came back. Sort of. Call it shell-shock, call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, call it whatever you want – no one who has genuinely been to a war zone comes back unchanged.
Woodstock? No. I saved up all the protest in my heart for another battle: the Pentagon’s continuous medical experimentation upon our service members, particularly through the untested, experimental and yet mandatory anthrax vaccine. For all the years I couldn’t speak out for the safety of my husband, I could and did speak out for the safety of my son.  My work and the work of many others is at http://www.mvrd.org.
And then I changed, too.

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It’s all their fault.  When Joseph first crashed to the floor with a grand mal seizure at a restaurant in Washington D.C. where we were gathered around tables to talk and discuss the testimony given at Congressional hearings that afternoon concerning the military’s mandatory anthrax vaccine; when he lay on the floor convulsing, and we watched helplessly, unable to do anything until it was over; when memories of my son’s reactions to the anthrax vaccine were still too fresh in my mind and worries about his future ran rampant and unchecked; when I saw Tom in his wheelchair and helmet, afraid of standing up and walking too far for fear of blacking out and crashing to the ground yet again; when Vance ended up with 23 different disabilities related to the anthrax vaccine – I couldn’t stand by and ignore any of it.  My son was the instigator, of course, when he got three anthrax shots in 2000 against his will.  But long after my son was out of the military, it was Joseph, and Tom, and Vance, and Jon, and Russ, and Buzz, and Randi, and so many others – the best of the best.   They are the ones our military experiments on, and then throws away.  Think this is wild?  Uh-uh: Congress has known for years; has even come out with a formal report and protest.  The GAO office has been on it.   Please check out our web site, the Military Vaccine Resource Directory, for the full story.  Click here: http://www.mvrd.org.


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