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From: TSS (
Subject: Family is fighting to let sergeant die a soldier, Army rules require discharge of Green Beret with brain disease (another broken promise)
Date: October 9, 2004 at 7:34 pm PST

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Family is fighting to let sergeant die a soldier
Date: Sat, 9 Oct 2004 21:13:06 -0500
From: "Terry S. Singeltary Sr."
Reply-To: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

##################### Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy #####################

Family is fighting to let sergeant die a soldier

Army rules require discharge of Green Beret with brain disease

08:20 PM CDT on Saturday, October 9, 2004

By NANCY BARR CANSON / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

KARNACK, Texas  Staff Sgt. James Alford is still alive and, so far at
least, is still on active duty.

Sent home from Iraq with a terminal brain disease in mid- 2003, Sgt.
Alford, 25, was expected to die before Christmas of last year.

But monthly injections in his brain of an experimental drug are keeping
him alive, without improving his condition.

The decorated Green Beret soldier is in a vegetative state because of
the ravages of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, a degenerative brain
disorder similar to mad cow disease.

But now that he has outlived his prognosis, his wife and parents are
battling the latest of several bureaucratic disputes with the Army,
which wants to retire him.

"He is entitled to die as a soldier," said John Alford, the soldier's
father. "Why can't they leave the boy alone and let him have his dignity?"

Army officials say it is simply a matter of regulation  Sgt. Alford is
not medically capable of returning to active duty, and regulations say
he should be granted a medical discharge.

"We already fought for this back in December," Mr. Alford said. "They
agreed to keep him on active duty status because his death was imminent.
Now they've reneged on their promise."

The Army says it hasn't reneged. The family was told in December that
disability processing would be "reinitiated" if Sgt. Alford's condition
improved or he appeared to have a longer life expectancy, according to a
medical board memo.

Mr. Alford said this is not a financial dispute. "My son would actually
be better off financially with retirement," he said. "But this is not
about money. He should be allowed to die a soldier."

Army spokeswoman Nelia Schrum at the Brooke Army Medical Center said she
is sympathetic, "but with the global war on terror, we've had more than
3,000 soldiers [medically retired] this year. Could we grant each of
them an exception?"

To that, Mr. Alford, himself a retired command sergeant major who served
30 years in the Army, said, "The Army has discretion when a soldier is
dying. Every soldier whose death is imminent should get an exception."

At issue now is whether his son's death is "imminent."

"It's like he's not dying fast enough to suit them," said the Alfords'
attorney, Mike C. Miller of Marshall.

No one knows how long injections of pentosan polysulphate, a common
paint thickener with medicinal uses, will keep the soldier alive. Only a
few other CJD patients in the world are known to have undergone the
radical treatment  one young patient has outlived his life expectancy
by 22 months and is still alive. The drug seems to slow the disease but
is not a cure.

Sgt. Alford's physician, Air Force Lt. Col. Matthew P. Wicklund, has
written a letter to the review board saying Sgt. Alford's condition
"continues to worsen. Although I can't predict precisely his outcome, I
would be surprised if he survived through the winter."

U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, has intervened.

"This [medical discharge] never should have been reinitiated," said Bill
Brannon, a spokesman in Mr. Sandlin's office. "We're doing everything we
can to fight it."

Sgt. Alford is dying of "classical, sporadic CJD," which can occur
spontaneously, without any cause, and is distinct from "new variant
CJD," known as human mad cow disease, which is said to be caused by
eating contaminated beef.

The Alfords believe their son's illness was caused by eating sheep's
brains while he was serving in Oman. Medical experts say they don't know
the cause.

Sgt. Alford was initially demoted by the Army when early symptoms of his
then-undiagnosed disease were mistaken for misconduct.

The Alford family fought to restore his rank, and the Army corrected its

"The Army has discretion," said the attorney, Mr. Miller. "There's no
reason why they couldn't just put this file on the bottom of the stack."

Nancy Barr Canson is a free-lance writer based in East Texas.

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