Posted September 5, 2005 | comments Leave a comment

Anthrax victim waits, seethes

By James Heffernan - Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- Three-and-a-half years after a workplace encounter with deadly anthrax spores put him under a national microscope, David R. Hose Sr. is an embittered and seemingly forgotten figure, his $12 million damage claim against the government in legal limbo.

One of six U.S. survivors of an October 2001 terror-by-mail campaign, Hose, his lungs and heart permanently scarred, is still largely confined to his two-story brick apartment, where he waits for word of a financial settlement toward ending a living nightmare.

His health has improved slightly, he says, though the living-room end table is topped with a familiar cocktail of prescription medicines for asthma, stomach ulcers and circulatory problems, including an irregular heartbeat and unstable blood pressure.

"I've gotten rid of some of the pains in my chest. But if I do very much [at one time], my blood pressure drops way down and my heart rate goes crazy."

Hose, 63, tires easily, and his weakened immune system puts him at high risk for pneumonia and other illnesses. He also suffers short-term memory loss, vision problems, extreme mood swings and depression, according to his personal injury claim.

Unable to return to work, the days pass slowly, monotonously, in front of the television and en route to the grocery store and pharmacy with his wife, Connie. The couple's income has been reduced to monthly Social Security payments and workers compensation checks.

The government, Hose says, is in a state of denial regarding the threat of bioterrorism. He can't help thinking of his former colleagues in Northern Virginia whenever he hears reports of anthrax or poisonous ricin powder passing through federal office buildings.

He maintains that the weapons-grade Ames strain of inhalation anthrax that infected him and nearly claimed his life was stolen from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. He blames the military for inadequate security measures at the site and the State Department for not enforcing health and safety regulations at its postal facility in Sterling, where he had been a supervisor for 11 years until the incident.

"This was handled terribly. They could have prevented it."

However, holding the federal government accountable for what Hose considers mishandling its cache of bioterror weapons has proven a tall order.

Last year, federal attorneys in Florida were granted a delay in a $50 million wrongful death suit brought by Maureen Stevens, the widow of a tabloid editor who came into contact with an anthrax-tainted letter. The lawyers argued that the government is at a crucial stage in its investigation and that national security issues were at stake.

Hose says such delays are nonsense. "I don't buy that. Don't believe all the rhetoric they put out."

No arrests have been made. One of the potential witnesses in Hose's claim, Steven J. Hatfill, a Fort Detrick scientist who at one time was on the FBI's watch list, strongly maintains his innocence and has never been charged in the government's case.

"I'll either have some mysterious accident or, if they wait long enough, I'll be dead," Hose says, shifting his weight uncomfortably on the sofa and punctuating his sentences with short, quick breaths. "Everything's been a stone wall."

Phone inquires into the status of Hose's personal injury claim were shuffled between the departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Army Claims Service at Fort Meade, Md.
Kevin M. Gleeson, a State Department attorney who received the claim in 2003, initially said the claim was being handled in the torts division of the Department of Justice.

However, a Justice spokesman denied involvement, saying the claim is an administrative matter within the State Department and does not fall under his department's jurisdiction until it reaches federal court.

During a follow-up call, Gleeson said Lt. Col. Charles Walters with the Army Claims Service had taken the lead on the claim and referred the inquiry to him.

Walters was unavailable for comment Friday. A department spokesman acknowledged that the office is reviewing Hose's claim, but said he couldn't comment on it because it is pending litigation. He referred the inquiry back to the Department of Justice.

Hose isn't surprised by the runaround.

"You're fighting a big animal. You never know what to believe."

He has not heard from his own attorney, Joshua R. Treem, a partner in the Baltimore firm of Schulman, Treem, Kaminkow, Gilden and Ravenell, in more than a year.

Treem has not returned phone messages left at his office over a period of several months.
Hose says he received a letter from the FBI on a Friday afternoon in November about signing on as a class-action litigant in the Stevens case.

"They gave me an hour-and-a-half to get to [Washington] D.C. and sign the paperwork," he says. "That's how the government works."

Dan Scandling, chief of staff for 10th District Rep. Frank R. Wolf, who intervened on Hose's behalf in October 2003, said the congressman would again pledge his help if necessary.

Hose says he expects his claim to end in a settlement. A $12 million award, he says, is nothing given the hell he has had to go through.

"I guess this is happening for a reason, but I didn't expect the government to be this nasty."

R Contact James Heffernan at jheffernan@nvdaily.com

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