Stand Up for Atomic Veterans!

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Sponsor: The Veterans Site

Don't let radiation exposure while on duty keep veterans from receiving their benefits!

It was 1955 when 17-year-old Hank Bolden was given his orders to head out into Nevada desert1.

Top military brass called it Operation Teapot, intended to test the effects of nuclear bombs on structures and strategies, animals and people.

Bolden soon realized after arriving in Nevada, just what people the tests were concerned with. He was held in a bunker along with dozens of other black service members, while 14 atomic bombs were detonated miles away.

Wayne Brooks was a gunner's mate aboard the USS De Haven when it sailed deep into the Pacific for Operation Hardtack I, a series of nuclear tests in 1958. Over three months, he witnessed 27 of them2.

Like Brooks, the hundreds of thousands of service members now known as "Atomic Veterans" were never given a commendation or medal for cleaning up. Their jobs exposed them to dangerous atomic radiation. When many of these veterans, later became sick along with their families, they were given no federal compensation for treatment.

Soldiers, aviators and sailors who took part in U.S. nuclear tests between 1946 and 1962 or were exposed to radiation during the occupation of Japan after World War II now face a prolonged battle with "a system that is not working"3.

It can be years before the cases of sick elderly veterans are decided. Meanwhile, a lack of understanding on the relationship between radiation exposure and various cancers can make it difficult for veterans to actually prove their illnesses were prompted by radiation exposure4.

"As of October 2004, roughly 18,275 atomic veterans applied for disability compensation, but only 1,875 of these claims were granted," Podgor wrote. "Thus, nearly 90 percent of atomic veterans have been denied disability compensation."

After World War II, many service members experienced radiation exposure from the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Because levels of radiation exposure were not closely monitored and records were not kept, these veterans were not able to receive their VA benefits.

Veterans who served between 1945 and 1992 and were exposed to radiation became eligible to receive a service certificate under the fiscal 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act5.

A piece of paper is not enough, especially when about 80% of all American atomic veterans have already passed away, never having received this recognition.

We must stop this same situation from repeating itself in light of the radiation emissions that continue to occur today as a result of nuclear plant disasters around the world. Support the fight to maintain records of radiation exposure so the VA can effectively provide our veterans with the benefits and care they deserve.

More on this issue:

  1. Heidi Voight, NBC Connecticut (28 February 2020), "Hidden History: America's Atomic Veterans."
  2. Jennifer LaFleur, Reveal (27 May 2016), "America's atomic vets: 'We were used as guinea pigs — every one of us'."
  3. Melinda F. Pogdor, The Elder Law Journal (20 January 2006), "The Inability of World War II Atomic Veterans to Obtain Disability Benefits: Time is Running Out on Our Chance to Fix the System."
  4. Mark Reutter, Illinois News Bureau (3 April 2006), "Ill veterans who had radiation exposure now caught in bureaucratic web."
  5. (16 July 2020), "Lawmakers Want Medals, Not Certificates, to Honor Veterans Involved in Nuclear Testing."
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The Petition:

Dear Chair of the United States Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs,

I am writing to express my support of your suggestion to maintain a database detailing radiation exposure occurrences that affect our service members.

We need to learn from our past mistakes. During World War II, deadly amounts of radiation were released directly following the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before those bombs were dropped, many more suffered from atomic testing in the Pacific Ocean and southwestern United States.

Many former soldiers were on the ground in Japan and serving their duties at this time. Because the Department of Defense failed to monitor and keep record of the radiation exposure, many veterans were unable to receive their benefits from the VA.

We cannot let this kind of atrocity happen again. All of our veterans — especially those who have been exposed to sub-par situations and circumstances while serving — are entitled to their benefits.

Please continue the fight to retain radiation records so all of our veterans can live the lives they deserve after sacrificing everything for our country.


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