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Kerry allows Navy release of military, medical records

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WASHINGTON -- Senator John F. Kerry, ending at least two years of refusal, has waived privacy restrictions and authorized the release of his full military and medical records.

The records, which the Navy Personnel Command provided to the Globe, are mostly a duplication of what Kerry released during his 2004 campaign for president, including numerous commendations from commanding officers who later criticized Kerry's Vietnam service.

The lack of any substantive new material about Kerry's military career in the documents raises the question of why Kerry refused for so long to waive privacy restrictions. An earlier release of the full record might have helped his campaign because it contains a number of reports lauding his service. Indeed, one of the first actions of the group that came to be known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was to call on Kerry to sign a privacy waiver and release all of his military and medical records.

But Kerry refused, even though it turned out that the records included commendations from some of the same veterans who were criticizing him.

On May 20, Kerry signed a document called Standard Form 180, authorizing the Navy to send an ''undeleted" copy of his ''complete military service record and medical record" to the Globe. Asked why he delayed signing the form for so long, Kerry said in a written response: ''The call for me to sign a 180 form came from the same partisan operatives who were lying about my record on a daily basis on the Web and in the right-wing media. Even though the media was discrediting them, they continued to lie. I felt strongly that we shouldn't kowtow to them and their attempts to drag their lies out."

Many of the records contain praise for Kerry's service. For example, the documents quote Kerry's former commanding officers as saying he is ''one of the finest young officers with whom I have served;" is ''the acknowledged leader of his peer group;" and is ''highly recommended for promotion."

Kerry's refusal to waive privacy restrictions dates back to at least May 2003, when the Globe asked in writing for Kerry to sign the Form 180. As questions were raised about various actions in Vietnam, the Kerry campaign gradually released documents last year, but had not authorized the release of the entire file until now.

In April 2004, Kerry said he had already released his military records. ''I've shown them, they're available for you to come and look at," Kerry said in a television interview. But when a reporter showed up at campaign headquarters, he was told that no new records would be released. That prompted a flood of Republican criticism, and the campaign responded by gradually releasing more military records on its website. Kerry then released his ''fitness reports" -- evaluations by commanding officers -- on April 21, 2004.

Two days later, the campaign allowed some reporters to view Kerry's medical record but did not allow copies to be made and did not post that information online.

By signing Form 180 now, Kerry may hope to achieve several goals: settle the question of whether there is an explosive document in the file; put pressure on critics to release their military records; and try to put to rest an issue that dogged his 2004 campaign and would probably come up again if he seeks the presidency in 2008.

The file does not provide new documents about various combat actions. It contains mostly a repetition of Kerry's citations for the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. For example, it does not include the combat ''after action reports" that detail what happened in some of the firefights in which Kerry participated. Those reports are available for public inspection at the Navy historical center in Washington and have already been widely disseminated.

John O'Neill, the leader of the Swift Boat veterans group and coauthor of the book ''Unfit for Command," said yesterday that he would be disappointed if Kerry's files do not contain new information. ''I would still have the same beliefs expressed in my book," he said.

O'Neill, who said he has already authorized the release of his records, has questioned a number of Kerry's combat actions involving the first Purple Heart, the Silver Star, and the Bronze Star.

For example, Kerry received his first Purple Heart for action on Dec. 2, 1968. Kerry told historian Douglas Brinkley that ''I never saw where the piece of shrapnel had come from." Kerry's critics have questioned whether the wound came from enemy fire, and his former commanding officer said the wound resembled a ''scratch." The file includes a previously reported reference to Kerry being treated for the wound and that he was awarded the Purple Heart, but it does not address the details of the combat that night. No after-action report for the incident has been found.

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