Jesse Kanson-Benanav | RAW STORY MANAGING
Jason Cordova was an ideal military recruit. In 1993,
the Buffalo, NY native enrolled at Canisius College,
a Jesuit institution with a strong Reserve Officer Training
Corps (ROTC) program that feeds the U.S. Army officers
in the Buffalo area. He studied military communications,
and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Upon his
graduation in 1997, Cordova was upgraded to a Communications
Commander with the Army Special Forces and sent to serve
active duty at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
It was there that Cordova’s military career took
a turn for the worse. After a two-year review in 1998,
Defense Secretary William Cohen announced the implementation
of an Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program for all active
duty military personnel. As an active duty officer,
Cordova was among the 455,000 soldiers who received
the inoculation. Yet despite assurances as to the safety
of the anthrax vaccine, these shots were anything but
Soon after the first five of the required six injections
were administered, he began experiencing excruciating
“There are times when I am just urinating,”
says Commander Cordova with a matter-of-fact attitude,
“and all of the sudden a thick fluid will come
out, my testicles will be swollen, enlarged and very
tender. Then the anthrax injection site in my waist
According to Cordova, infectious disease doctors speculate
that the vaccination may have entered his lymphatic
system—primarily affecting nodes in his groin.
“When an episode occurs, and it does about two
to three times per week, the pain becomes so unbearable
I can’t even walk,” the commander told RAW
STORY. “I just have to lay down with my legs
spread open. It’s just awful.”
After completing nine years of active service, Cordova
applied to the Veterans Administration for disability
benefits in 2002. Citing his symptoms and linking them
directly to the anthrax vaccine, the VA granted him
a 10 percent benefit. This status means he is officially
a disabled veteran.
Despite his service-related disability, Cordova received
notice from the Army in June 2004 that he would soon
be called back to duty for Operation Enduring Freedom,
one of nearly 10,000 servicemembers who were recalled
after successfully completing their active duty requirements.
He has been assigned to report for active duty on May
His ultimate destination? Afghanistan or Iraq.
To add “insult to injury,” as Cordova explains
it, his initial commitment to the Army expires just
13 days later, on May 14. “They’re legally
allowed to do that, they say,” he claims, “but
I never saw the fine print which says that’s okay.”
“It seems like a breach of contract to me,”
Cordova seeks an exemption
Earlier this year, Cordova, who now lives in Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania, applied for an exemption from continued
service, citing his VA status as a disabled veteran
and his inability to receive further anthrax inoculation
despite being sent to a high-risk zone.
To make his case to the Army, Cordova submitted a slew
of documents, including memos from Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz and former Health and Human Services
Secretary Tommy Thompson. Both memos were originally
distributed to announce the reconstitution of the anthrax
vaccination for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan after
the original program was halted due to shortages in
2000. The program has since been placed in limbo after
a court ruled that the vaccines were not properly approved
for use. Many have questioned the safety and efficacy
of the vaccine; RAW STORY
four servicemembers disabled by the inoculations
Next the commander dispatched letters from six different
doctors, including a VA doctor, an Army doctor and a
physician from Penn State University. All confirm the
ailments Cordova continues to experience and insist
he must not receive another anthrax shot. One goes so
far as to say it could be life-threatening.
Finally, Cordova sent the Army documentation from the
Veterans Administration which establishes the disability
and links it directly to his prior military service.
“I had all the bases covered,” he insists.
Cordova claims he would be at a disadvantage as compared
to other soldiers who had received the vaccinations.
He notes, however, that his main concern is the safety
of those around him. Because of his physical condition,
Cordova sees himself as “putting lives in danger.”
“I’m an officer, a commander—I’m
in charge,” the Pennsylvanian explains. “If
my soldiers are forced to tend to me rather than to
the enemy, I put lives in jeopardy.”
“That’s the exact opposite of what officers
are supposed to do,” he adds.
Cordova’s request for exemption was denied. On
Mar. 21, he received a simple letter that read, “I
cannot grant you an exemption from this operation at
this time. Report May 1, 2005.”
“That’s it,” Cordova cries. “There’s
no regulation, nothing. I have no faith that a board
even convened to look at it. I don’t know if there
was a doctor on the board; were they qualified? Did
they take minutes at the meeting, if there even was
The Army granted Cordova 14 days to file an appeal.
But without any specifics regarding the Army’s
refusal, Cordova had no grounds upon which to file.
“They’re asking me in the appeal to answer
something in the particular when they only gave me an
answer in the abstract,” he says.
Cordova’s appeal was subsequently denied.
Because of the way his situation was handled, the commander
now intends to seek a federal injunction against the
Army based on what he alleges are “due process
“Because the Army has never given a reason why
they declined [the exemption],” he says, “they
have violated my right to due process; in essence the
appeal I filed is inequitable from the start.”
“The guy who killed that poor girl down in Florida
a few weeks back gets due process, but I’m a disabled
veteran and I can’t,” he adds. “Something’s
not right here.”
Cordova hopes to file the injunction by early next
week. The Army did not respond to requests for comment.
Lawmakers won't step in
In addition to pursuing an exemption through official
military procedures, Cordova has also sought help from
his elected representatives. This, he says, proved to
be equally frustrating and fruitless.
“So far I’ve contacted Sen. Arlen Specter,
Sen. Rick Santorum, and Congressman Todd Platts,”
explains the Harrisburg, PA resident. Each office agreed
to look into his case, he says, but he’s heard
Cordova reserved his harshest words for the senior
senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter. Specter, who
Cordova notes is a former chairman of the Senate Committee
on Veterans Affairs, recently contacted him to say they
had exhausted all their resources.
The call came from Gayle Mills, Executive Director
in Specter’s Harrisburg office. Commander Cordova
claims she made “outrageous” remarks.
“She said I should take three Cipro pills and
show up for the physical,” says a frustrated Cordova.
“That’s all they had to do when the Senate
building had the anthrax scare.”
“She tried to liken her experience being at the
Hart Senate Building to me being sent over to Iraq or
Afghanistan with a significant threat of anthrax,”
“I don’t think Al Qaeda is going to send
me a letter, an envelope,” he quips. “It’s
going to be a little bigger, know what I mean?”
Cordova asserts that Mills told him that because he
had received five of the six required anthrax vaccine
injections, he was safe, and his concern about being
at a disadvantage as compared to other soldiers was
unfounded. This information is in direct contrast to
Department of Defense regulations, according to a memo
issued by the Assistant Secretary of Defense’s
office on Sept. 11, 1998. It claims:
“Full immunization with Anthrax Vaccine...requires
six doses administered over 18 months to complete the
primary series…Yearly boosters are administered
thereafter to maintain immunity.”
“This leads me to believe they never even looked
into it,” Cordova says. “Senator Specter
has turned his back on a disabled vet.”
Mills refused to comment to RAW
STORY on the particulars of Cordova’s case,
saying only, “According to the Army a lot of military
[members] are called into services with 10 percent to
60 percent disability. A lot goes into that decision.”
Cordova says that both Sen. Santorum and Rep. Platts
have launched congressional inquiries. “Hopefully
they’re able to demonstrate a bit more leadership
than Sen. Specter,” he says. Neither office responded
to requests for comment.
With the days dwindling closer to his reactivation
date, the soldier’s frustration is palpable.
“I’ve kind of exhausted my resources,”
he says. “I just want one of these guys to stand
up and do the right thing.”
“You know,” he continues, “I see
everyone getting involved with Terri Schiavo down in
Florida. Let’s see a disabled veteran get taken
care of right here in your own state. In your own backyard.”
Cordova is clearly vexed with the Army, an institution
that he had dedicated nine years of his life to.
“They just see me as a warm body,” he says.
“I have a heartbeat and that’s good enough
The self-proclaimed Bush supporter adds: “Let’s
face it. This is what John Kerry called the backdoor
draft. I’m exactly it. Being involuntarily called
back from the inactive ready-reserve.”
For now, Cordova seems resigned to his possible fate.
If no intervention occurs, the commander plans to report
to Fort Jackson, South Carolina as directed for in-processing
on May 1 to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, as directed.
As for his expectations for the battlefield: “I’m
at a disadvantage; they can not protect me properly,”
“I’m at an unlevel playing-field for survival.”
published Apr. 4, 2005.