Tuesday, September 21, 1999

VA official touches
on anthrax issue

By Gregg K. Kakesako


The second-highest ranking man in the Department of Veterans Affairs says it may not be possible to give service members the opportunity to refuse to take the Pentagon's mandatory anthrax vaccinations.

Veteran Affairs Deputy Secretary Hershel W. Gober, a 20-year Army and Marine Corps veteran, told reporters yesterday, "I don't know if you can sign away your rights. That is a legal question."

There are several bills pending in Congress that would stop the controversial inoculation program or make the program mandatory.

Gober declined to discuss details of the anthrax program, saying it was a Department of Defense issue.

He added, however, that it is his agency's responsibility to care for people who are injured while serving in the military.

As for the problems stemming from the Gulf War, Gober added, "You know they have not found a single cause. What we have found that 75 or 76 percent of those who served in the gulf and who come to the VA can be diagnosed with an illness. The other 24 percent cannot be diagnosed with an illness.

"However, legislation was passed and the president signed the bill that lets us treat veterans of the Persian Gulf War for undiagnosed illness."

Although the military doesn't have an exact count on the numbers of service members who have refused to take the series of six anthrax shots, estimates have placed it at more than 200.

Those who refuse risk courts-martial, jail time, demotions and finally discharge.

Gober was in Hawaii to address the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs meeting at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and to present a $565,223 check to the Los Angeles Veterans Initiative to create transitional housing for homeless veterans at what was once Barbers Point Naval Air Station.

The money will be used to renovate three barracks at Kalaeloa and provide 118 beds for homeless veterans.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin