Thousands of military veterans were exposed to harmful levels of radiation during their service. The health repercussions for some veterans have been so great that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established presumptive diseases diseases caused by certain exposure risks that do not require a military service-connection related to radiation exposure.

However, there are many veterans who are unaware that they are eligible for VA disability compensation. Commonly known as “atomic veterans,” these military men and women worked under conditions where the risk of radiation exposure was particularly high.

The atomic veteran attorneys at PTSD Lawyers provide a wide range of services for veterans needing help with a claim or an appeal. We are proud to fight for the benefit rights of atomic veterans. When you work with our VA disability lawyers, you can greatly improve the chance that your disability application will be approved.

To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, call us or contact us online today.

What Is an Atomic Veteran?

Atomic veterans are military service members who were exposed to radiation during a nuclear explosion. Most atomic veterans who claim VA benefits fit into the category of those involved in nuclear testing between 1945 and 1962. During that period, nearly 200 atmospheric nuclear weapons development tests were conducted, and between 195,000 and 300,000 American troops were subjected to them.

Atomic veterans will have:

  • Served in World War II during the occupation of Hiroshima, Japan, and Nagasaki, Japan, from Aug. 6, 1945 to July 1, 1946.
  • Participated in nuclear weapons tests that took place in the southwestern U.S., the Pacific Ocean, and other locales between 1945 and 1962.
  • Been a prisoner of war (POW) in Japan during WWII.
  • Participated in underground nuclear testing at Amchitka Island, Alaska, before 1974.
  • Served for at least 250 days at one of the following gaseous diffusion plants before Feb. 1, 1992: Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

If you need help filing for or appealing VA disability benefits for any disability or health condition related to radiation exposure, call PTSD Lawyers today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

From 1945-1962, the US Government conducted as series of Atomic tests in places ranging from Nevada, to New Mexico, to the South Pacific Ocean (Marshall Islands, Bikini Atoll, Enewetak Atoll, Johnston Atoll). The result of this is over 1,100 nuclear tests.

Atomic Veterans Benefits

Atomic veterans who have developed one of the specific cancers or nonmalignant conditions may be eligible for compensation and free VA medical care. This financial compensation would be in the form of a partial or full service-connected disability allowance, including payments to your surviving spouse or children.

Compensation for Atomic Veterans

The VA is the only entity responsible for making medical determinations. The agency makes compensation decisions based on participation status information, dose estimates, scientific assessment of the likelihood that the exposure caused the disease, and medical evidence. 

When the VA is determining service connection for a non-presumptive condition, the dose estimate provided by Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is the starting point for making the decision as to whether the exposure was sufficient for the type of cancer to be eligible for compensation.

What Do I Need for My Atomic Veterans Claim?

If you are an atomic veteran, your first step should be to call the DTRA at 800-462-3683. The agency will ask for your name, service branch, service number, ship or unit name, and number, the years in which you were involved with radiation exposure. The DTRA will then send you a letter confirming the event assignment, qualifying you as an atomic veteran. Be sure to hold on to this letter because it is very important when filing a claim for health issues with your local VA office. 

Dose reconstruction is the widely accepted method used in estimating how much radiation a veteran was exposed to during military service. It takes into account many factors, such as where the veteran was at the time of the nuclear explosion, how close they were to the contamination after the detonation, and the nature of the nuclear device being tested. Dose reconstruction times vary. It could take several weeks up to a year or longer, depending on caseload and the availability of data. 

Radiation Exposure Compensation Act

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act established an administrative program for claims relating to nuclear testing and claims relating to uranium industry employment. The Act, which was enacted in 1990 and its scope of coverage broadened in 2000, gave authority to the Attorney General to establish procedures and make determinations in regard to claims that satisfy statutory eligibility criteria.

The Act provides for compensation to individuals who developed certain cancers and other serious health conditions:

  • Following their radiation exposure during atmospheric nuclear weapons tests; or
  • Following their exposure to radiation while employed in the uranium industry during the Cold War arsenal buildup. 

The Manhattan Project & Atomic Veterans

The Manhattan Project is now widely known and ultimately resulted in the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulting in Japan’s unconditional surrender ending World War II. The British government conducted nuclear testing as well. Additionally, members of the US military occupation forces and/or Prisoners Of Wars (POWs) held near Hiroshima or Nagasaki are considered to be so-called “Atomic Veterans.”

About The Nuclear Tests

  • The bomb dropped on Bikini Atoll in 1954 was 1,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima.
  • Researchers from Columbia have recently found that some portions of the Marshall Islands have more radioactivity than Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011) – in some cases 1,000 times higher.

At the time of the testing, the government didn’t understand the dangers of radioactive particles. For example, US Marines were only 1.5 miles away from detonation sites and were instructed: ‘Wait for the shock blast to come from the bomb, and wait for the shock blast to come back,’ They were told to open their eyes and watch the bomb. Servicemen were free to move around the islands, drinking local water, eating local fruits, bathing in the lagoons and breathing in dust, all of which could have been contaminated. They also include Servicemen who were assigned to posttest duties, such as “ground zero” nuclear warfare maneuvers & exercises, removing radiation cloud samples from aircraft wing pods, working in close proximity to radiated test animals,  de-contamination of aircrafts and field test equipment. This also includes the retrieval and transport of test instruments & devices, or those whose duties involved regular use of radiation producing equipment or processes:

  • such as power plant technicians aboard nuclear powered Aircraft Carriers and Submarines
  • X-ray technicians
  • and those assigned to radiation clean-up projects.

Nuclear Radiation and Secrecy Agreements Laws in 1996

In most cases these atomic tests were classified and military personnel were not able to discuss them due to their oath-of-secrecy until the repeal of the Nuclear Radiation and Secrecy Agreements Laws in 1996. They had limited records and medical help for their illnesses, and faced a threat of prison if they revealed the secret too soon.

  • a 1973 fire in St. Louis, Mo., destroyed a rash of military records, which further complicated things.

Key Dates for Atomic Veterans

In 1979, the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV) was founded.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a resolution to name July 16 National Atomic Veterans Day.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act into law allowing one-time compensation payments for eligible service members, nearby residents and others. Veterans could receive a flat payment of $75,000.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton apologized for the treatment of Atomic Veterans in an October 3rd White House Ceremony.

  • It was the same day as the OJ Simpson “not guilty” verdict – which overshadowed the apology.

In 2003, the Veterans’ Advisory Board on Dose Reconstruction (VBDR) was established to help with Veterans’ claims.

Types Of Cancers for Atomic Veterans

There are now 21 presumptive cancers defined by law for “Atomic Veterans.”

  • Leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
  • cancer of the thyroid
  • breast
  • pharynx
  • esophagus
  • stomach
  • small intestine
  • pancreas
  • bile ducts
  • gall bladder
  • salivary gland
  • urinary tract (kidneys, renal pelvis, ureter, urinary bladder and urethra)
  • bone
  • brain
  • colon
  • lung
  • ovarian
  • lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease)
  • multiple myeloma
  • primary liver cancer (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated)
  • bronchioalveolar carcinoma (a rare lung cancer)

If you have any of the above cancers traceable to radiation exposure, you may be entitled to compensation of $75,000 from the Justice Department under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or a monthly disability payment of up to $2,673. 

Although there are currently no medals for Atomic service, in 2019, the Department of Defense created an ‘Atomic Veterans Service Certificate’ which provides recognition to those service members who were exposed to radiation while serving in the military. The certificate does not entitle a veteran to any kind of compensation or any type of benefit associated with that determination. There are 550,000 Veterans who may qualify for the Certificate.

In a related note,recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled (Skaar v. Wilkie) that Veterans in Palomares, Spain are eligible to sue for disability benefits related to their illnesses in a class action law suit due to exposure to the 1966 nuclear bomb disaster. About 1,600 veterans deployed there after a B-52 Stratofortress bomber collided in mid-air with a refueling tanker and crashed. Four hydrogen bombs were released, and two exploded conventionally, littering the countryside with radioactive plutonium dust. Palomares veterans worked to recover, detect, and remove 5,400 drums of radioactive contamination – they are now eligible to apply for service connected disability for their radiation related illnesses.

Who Are Not Considered Atomic Veterans?

Tragically, Veterans who were stationed at McMurdo Station, Antarctica during the 1960-1970’s are NOT yet recognized as Atomic Veterans.

McMurdo Station’s 413-ton nuclear plant was first authorized by Congress in 1960 in order to cut the cost of diesel fuel heating in Antarctica. Designed to fit inside a military cargo plan as a portable source of power known by its military acronym, PM-3A.  The excess heat from the plant was used to melt ice into water used for drinking, cooking, bathing by McMurdo personnel. The plant was nicknamed, “Nuckey Poo.”  The first and only nuclear reactor to operate on the Antarctic continent was permanently shut down in 1972 after just 10 years operation achieving only half of the expected design life of 20 years.

Testing and safety measures in 1960 don’t meet with today’s standards.

Dosimeters were issued and when they registered radiation exposure, they were thrown away and new ones issued.  438 documented malfunctions (56 per year) including hairline cracks in the rector lining leaking water from the tank surrounding the reactor with 123 reports of radiation exposure (in excess of 350 millirem (mRem) in seven consecutive days). There were 5 reported cases of “airborne particulate radioactivity exposure to personnel” greater than allowed limits. The melting ice around the plant was found to contain Sodium 24 – a radioactive isotope.

Veterans serving at McMurdo Station have been diagnosed with a range of cancers: liver, stomach, esophageal, brain and spinal. Additionally, other radiation-related illnesses such as testicular cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, bladder cancer, blood cancer, colon cancer, etc. Some with 200+ tumors, Veterans have had lungs removed, etc.

How Can Berry Law Help You?

The Berry Law Firm can help you seek the highest disability rating available for your service-connected disability and keep your claim and benefit accurate over time. We can help ensure your medical records are up-to-date and that they portray your physical or mental disability as VA claims examiners expect and understand.

Our attorneys have extensive experience helping veterans appeal claims decisions or seek reevaluations that increase disability ratings. We know how to make VA rules and regulations for establishing disability ratings work for veterans, not against them.

Our VA Disability Lawyer in the office helping clientsWe are veterans helping veteransContact us today for a free review of your claim with no strings attached. We do not charge disabled veterans for legal work unless we recover money for them.

Contact an Atomic Veterans Lawyer Today

At PTSD Lawyers, we firmly believe atomic veterans earned the benefits they are entitled to through their brave and honorable service. Our objective at PTSD Lawyers is to make sure that the VA follows the law and that atomic veterans receive the compensation they need and deserve.

We combine legal skills and knowledge with military experience to help atomic veterans handle their benefit claims and appeals. If you are a veteran who was exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and have become ill, you could benefit from our VA disability attorneys. 

Call PTSD Lawyers today to schedule a free and confidential consultation. We are committed to helping atomic veterans seek the compensation they deserve.