Father of dead soldier claims Army coverup

By MARK BENJAMIN, Investigations Editor   |   Aug. 7, 2003 at 6:12 PM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- The father of a soldier who died of pneumonia this spring said Thursday the Army has excluded her death from its investigation of deadly pneumonia because it wants to cover up vaccine side effects.

"The government is covering this up and it is a dog-gone shame," said Moses Lacy, whose daughter, Army Spc. Rachael Lacy, died April 4 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., after getting pneumonia.

Lacy said his daughter "was a healthy young woman" but got ill within days of getting anthrax and smallpox vaccinations on March 2 in preparation for deployment to the Persian Gulf. She was too ill to ever be deployed.

The Army said 100 soldiers have gotten pneumonia in Iraq and southwestern Asia, two of those have died and another 13 have had to be put on respirators.

"The common denominator is smallpox and anthrax vaccinations," Moses Lacy said in a telephone interview from his home in Lynwood, Ill. "These young people have given their lives to the military and they are getting a raw deal. The Department of Defense is closing their eyes."

The Army did not mention vaccines on Tuesday when it held a press conference on the pneumonia investigation. Officials said the pneumonia does not appear to be contagious, and are close to ruling out biological or chemical warfare, SARS and Legionnaire's disease.

Col. Robert DeFraites of the Army Surgeon General's office said at the press conference that the Pentagon launched the investigation because of the severity of the pneumonia. "Are we seeing more cases in general than we might expect? Despite the harsh environment, the answer is no ... But again, we are still concerned about these severe ones."

DeFraites told UPI on Wednesday that the Pentagon would look into whether vaccines, among other factors, might have triggered the pneumonia cases. "Among all of the possible causes or contributing factors, we are looking at the immunizations that the soldiers received as well," DeFraites said. "It is premature to say that there is any relationship at all."

The Army said it is excluding Lacy's death from its investigation because Lacy never made it to Iraq or southwestern Asia where it says the cases are clustered. "She was never deployed to Iraq," Army Surgeon General spokeswoman Virginia Stephanakis told UPI Thursday. She said the military is participating in an investigation of Lacy's death separate from the pneumonia investigation. "It is a whole different issue."

Moses Lacy disagreed.

"She should be on that list (of deaths to investigate) because my daughter's first symptoms were pneumonia," Lacy said. "It happened immediately" after the vaccines, Moses said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. If I were a medical official it would be the first thing I would look into."

Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, told UPI, "We should include in this study any illnesses or deaths that appear to be pneumonia-related that occurred in theater or out of theater."

Dr. Eric Pfeifer, the Minnesota coroner who performed Lacy's autopsy, told the Army Times that the smallpox and anthrax vaccines "may have" contributed to Lacy's death. "It's just very suspicious in my mind...that she's healthy, gets the vaccinations and then dies a couple weeks later." He listed "post-vaccine" problems on the death certificate.

Other members of the armed forces not in the Pentagon investigation say the anthrax vaccine has made them very sick with pneumonia-like symptoms. Michael Girard, a Senior Airman at Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, Fla., got his second anthrax shot on March 4. He developed flu-like symptoms - runny nose and a "heavy chest" - starting March 6 and by March 12 developed a rash on his left arm where he had gotten the shot.

"Then basically it started attacking my body, section by section," Girard said. He said he has since suffered bouts of vomiting up blood, pain in his feet that made them turn blue, chest pain, constipation, pain in his legs, headaches, stomach aches and extremely high blood pressure. In one weekend he went to the emergency room four times. He says he suffers from insomnia and fatigue.

At one point, he developed a horrible cough. "They did do a chest X-ray because they thought it might be pneumonia. A nurse told me that it was, but a doctor came in and said that it was not."

Girard said Air Force doctors first suspected the anthrax vaccine caused his problems, but since have backed away from that diagnosis. "Everything that has been associated with this ever since I got sick has been like a coverup," Girard said. He said he "was perfectly 100 percent healthy" before getting the vaccine. "I was in the gym for an hour to two hours per day. I was running. I was energetic."

He said he was not scheduled to deploy anywhere.

In its pneumonia investigation, the Army is looking into the July 12 death of Army Spc. Joshua M. Neusche, 20, of Montreal, Mo. The Pentagon has described his death as "other causes." The Army is also looking at the June 17 death of Army Sgt. Michael L. Tosto, 24, of Apex, N.C. His death is listed as "illness."

Stephanakis said she was unfamiliar with the June 26 death in Kuwait of another soldier, Army Spc. Cory A. Hubbell, 20, of Urbana, Ill. His death is listed by the Pentagon under "breathing difficulties." Hubbell's mother, Connie Bickers, of Urbana, Ill., told the Champaign News-Gazette that the Army had not told her how her apparently healthy son died. "I wish I had answers, but I don't know if I'm ever going to get them," Bickers told the paper.

On Thursday, the Pentagon announced the death of Sgt. David L. Loyd, 44, of Jackson, Tenn. The announcement said Lloyd died on Aug. 5 when he "was on a mission when he experienced severe chest pains. The soldier was sent to the Kuwait hospital where he was pronounced dead."

A co-author of a government-sponsored study of possible side effects from the anthrax vaccine told UPI that the Army should look at whether that vaccine is behind the cluster of pneumonia cases. That study last year found the vaccine was the "possible or probable" cause of pneumonia in two soldiers.

"As physicians, I would think they would be looking at all possible causes. I would think vaccines would be part of that," said Dr. John L. Sever of George Washington University Medical School, who was one of six authors of the study.

Last year's anthrax vaccine study, printed in the May 2002 issue of Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, found that the vaccine was the "possible or probable" cause of pneumonia among two soldiers, according to Sever. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened the group, called the Anthrax Vaccine Expert Committee, which studied 602 reports of possible reactions to the vaccine among nearly 400,000 troops who received it, Sever said.

In addition to identifying pneumonia and flu-like symptoms among troops who received the vaccine, the group also looked at four other cases of potentially serious reactions, including severe back pain and two soldiers who had sudden difficulty breathing in a possible allergic reaction to the vaccine.

Sever described the two cases of pneumonia as "wheezing and difficulty breathing going into a pneumonia-like picture."

To conduct the study, the Anthrax Vaccine Expert Committee examined reports from the U.S. military to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; they are anecdotal reports and do not necessarily show a cause-and-effect relationship.

Moses Lacy said he believes the real story is about vaccine side effects. "Unless somebody breaks this story wide open, we are going to have a lot more deaths. I am afraid we are going to lose a lot because of this vaccine."

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