Former Army Capt. Jason Cordova receives a $110 monthly check from the government for a disability he blames on the anthrax vaccine.
That has not stopped the Army from calling him back to duty. He has papers ordering him to report next month to Fort Jackson, S.C., to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom - the war in Afghanistan.
The Army has rejected his appeals for a medical exemption - despite his submission of letters from doctors describing debilitating attacks in his groin area possibly caused by the anthrax vaccine. Cordova, 30, said he has no choice but to ask a federal judge later this week to let him stay home.
"This is about principle. I've been a solid officer my entire career, and for me to have to fight like this for someone to do the right thing is driving me crazy," Cordova said.
Cordova is a member of the Individual Ready Reserves, which before the Iraq war had not been called into service since 1990. Members were honorably discharged from the Army after finishing their active-duty tours, typically four to six years, but stayed in the IRR for the remainder of the eight-year commitment they made to the Army.
Cordova is listed in VA documents as being 10 percent disabled, but he has petitioned the VA to increase the percentage. The VA agreed that the condition developed while he was in the Army.
Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman, said soldiers with various disabilities have deployed to Iraq and elsewhere. She said she could not speak specifically about Cordova's case because of privacy reasons, but that every case is closely reviewed on an individual basis.
"There's certainly a precedence of people who have a low level Veterans Administration disability rating returning to active duty and serving fully and honorably," Robbins said.
Since 1998, the Pentagon has given millions of anthrax vaccine shots in a six-shot series, and claims it is as safe as any other vaccine.
But soldiers have complained of symptoms ranging from joint pain to miscarriage that they blame on the vaccine. Hundreds of individuals have been kicked out of the military for refusing to take them.
Cordova said he received five anthrax shots from 1999 to 2000 while he was a communications officer with the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky. The first symptoms occurred a little less than a year later, but he did not report the problems to the VA until 2002, about a year after he left the Army, he said.
During the attacks that occur two to three times a week, he said his lymph nodes in his groin become enlarged and his testicles become swollen and tender for hours at a time. The spot on his waist where he received the anthrax shots becomes red and inflamed, he said.
Both civilian and military doctors have written letters recommending that Cordova not be given any more doses of the anthrax vaccine, according to paperwork provided by Cordova.
The paperwork showed that an infectious disease specialist from the Veterans Affairs said the anthrax vaccine could not be specifically blamed for all the symptoms, but the benefit of the doubt should be given to Cordova.
Cordova, who is a pharmaceutical sales representative in Mechanicsburg, 10 miles west of Harrisburg, said he is so angry with the government he has taken framed photos and certificates from his time in the Army off the walls.
He said his health problems would not only put himself in danger at war, it would also endanger others in his unit because they might have to protect him.
"As an officer that's exactly the opposite of what I'm supposed to do," Cordova said. "I'm supposed to prevent friendly casualties, not be the cause of them."
As of March 16, 4,067 Individual Ready Reserves members have been ordered to report for duty, and 2,229 have requested a delay or exemption, said Robbins, the Army spokeswoman. Approvals for delays or exemptions have been approved in 1,866 cases, 83 have been denied and 280 are pending, Robbins said.
"Requiring soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve to return to active duty is a prudent use of America's resources," Robbins said. "We are a nation at war."
KIMBERLY HEFLING Associated Press MECHANICSBURG, Pa.