Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) is being criticized for his response to a questionnaire from an Iowa newspaper that critics said implied his brother was in the military.

Dean said the dispute is overblown, arguing he's repeatedly spelled out his brother's fate.

The issue arose when the Quad-City Times sent a survey to Democratic presidential candidates asking them to complete the sentence "My closest living relative in the armed services is ..." Dean responded to the question by telling the story of his brother, Charles.

Charles Dean (search) was 23 when disappeared while touring Laos (search) 29 years ago. His body was discovered last month. He did not serve in the military, and the newspaper said Dean's reply "certainly is not an accurate response."

"Charlie Dean's capture and death in Southeast Asia certainly shaped his brother's opinion about the American military," an editorial in Sunday's edition said. The newspaper went on to explain that Charles Dean had opposed the Vietnam War (search) and was visiting Laos as part of a trip around the world.

"Knowing that story tells us something about the candidate," the editorial said. "So does inaccurately implying a direct family connection to the armed services for the 72,000 Quad Citians who received Sunday's newspaper."

Dean wrote a letter to the newspaper saying he was "deeply offended" by the newspaper's position, arguing that his brother's story is widely known and there was no effort to mislead.

The former Vermont governor has spoken in detail about his brother's fate and said it would be impossible to conclude from his answer that he was attempting to link his brother to military service.

Most polls show Dean and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt (search) bunched together tightly atop the field of Democratic candidates in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses Jan. 19.