ATOMIC VETERANS SEEK ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
by Wendy Dager
Ventura County Star
Original Run Date: May 25, 2006
The kid is graduating from high school. She settled on a culinary career.
We want to send her to a good vocational college, but were a little worried about finances. Some trade schools rival universities in tuition costs and we don’t qualify for assistance or scholarships. Since we’d never used my husband’s disabled veteran’s benefits, we thought we’d check it out.
In addition to suffering hearing loss and tinnitus from shooting weapons without ear protection, he is a second-generation Atomic Veteran.
Most of us have seen the old films of vets in the 1950s, sitting cross-legged on the ground as bombs are set off. The soldiers smile, not knowing they have been exposed to radiation; just doing what they have been ordered to do. They and others who participated in similar experiments are known as Atomic Veterans.
My husband also had orders when he joined the army in the late 1970s. He was one of the guys stationed in the Marshall Islands, cleaning up radiation left by atomic testing that took place from 1946 to 1958.
Approximately 4,000 workers were in the Enewetak Atoll from 1977-1980, filling a hole known as the “Cactus crater” with tons of radioactive dirt and debris that was eventually covered by cement and the now-famous Runit dome. My husband, who spent six months there, was told that one side of Runit was “hot,” but the side he worked on, with little or no protective gear, was not. He was directly next to the fence dividing the two sides. He never had a physical examination prior to leaving the atoll in 1979, but he provided a urine sample, for which he never received test results.
When we got married, we joked that our kids would glow in the dark. As time went on and my husband developed mystery ailments, we decided it wasn’t such a joke.
Several years ago, we tried to find out if there were any documented medical problems with other veterans who participated in the Marshall Islands’ cleanup, but Internet information was sketchy.
Today, it’s still unclear, so I contacted several sources to get clarification. I wrote to the woman who, during the Clinton administration, was in charge of examining and declassifying 1950s atomic-testing documents. These documents proved that some of the ‘50s vets were purposely exposed to radiation by the government. The woman never contacted me.
I called and wrote to the editor of a newsletter for atomic scientists, but I didn’t hear from him, either. I also called the Marshall Islands’ embassy in Washington, D.C., and, at the time of this writing, had not received a reply. I e-mailed a nuclear activist and author, who said he’d forward my e-mail to colleagues.
I did spend an hour on the phone with Pat Broudy, the widow of a Marine aviator who was exposed to radiation three times in the 1950s and died in 1977 of lymphoma. Pat is an Atomic Veterans advisor who tries to help vets who have illnesses they believe are related to radiation exposure. Often, she ends up assisting their widows. It’s a long story, and I have limited space here, but the upshot is that some of the previously declassified documents have been reclassified; military medical histories are buried; and the U.S. government only admits to causing certain cancers.
Vets who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome have finally been recognized. Even the natives of the Marshall Islands, many of whom became sick, received what amounts to an admission of responsibility by the U.S. Government.
The Atomic Veterans, however, are barely acknowledged. The 1950s vets, like Pat Broudy’s husband, are dying off. The 1970s vets, like my husband, believe it is long-term exposure to radiation that is making many of them ill, but are told to “prove it,” while being denied access to information.
This has become more than just an issue of veterans’ benefits. This is about the shameful disregard of the health and dignity of those who’ve served our country after their service is done. –Wendy Dager, of Simi Valley, writes a biweekly column for the Star.
Photo of my husband (standing, center) in Enewetak, attired in what the
U.S. Army considered to be adequate radioactive-protective gear.
Below are some updates, personal and public. Some highlighted in red and italicized for emphasis.
1. The kid graduated from culinary school in 2007. Her tuition was not covered by the VA because it was a private college. Our other kid graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014. When she graduated from high school in 2010 and started going to junior college prior to attending UCSB, my husband had received his VA rating, so her tuition was paid for by the VA.
2. His (minimal) rating was based on injuries he'd received while serving in the U.S. Army. While this qualifies him for free medical care at the VA, he has still been denied for his hearing loss, which has been tested multiple times and is due to shooting weapons with no ear protection, plus having a Ramset nail gun shot next to his ear by a coworker while doing army construction work. Multiple independent audiologists have noted scarring inside his ears.
3. The hearing loss is but one problem. This year, my husband was granted, then denied treatment for a serious medical problem, because the VA ran out of money.
4. There was never any acknowledgment of radiation exposure being the cause of his numerous medical issues. Currently, however, a group of Enewetak veterans has organized and is trying to get more attention for their service and its effects. A lot of these men and women have cancer and other serious medical conditions. Here is the link to the Facebook pages: Cleanup vets - closed group - https://www.facebook.com/groups/120395714769077/ - Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Veterans - community group - https://www.facebook.com/AtomicCleanupVeterans
5. In November, 2014, Alice "Pat" Broudy, with whom it was my pleasure to speak, donated to UNLV the papers detailing her work on behalf of 1950s Atomic Veterans. Here's the link: https://www.library.unlv.edu/2014/11/honoring-atomic-veterans-alice-p-broudy-papers.html
6. The National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada is hosting an event for Atomic Veterans, October 24-26, 2015. For more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1422003321455515/
The Runit dome is leaking and the island where all these servicepeople spent so much time has been deemed uninhabitable.
December 3, 2014 NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/opinion/a-pacific-isle-radioactive-and-forgotten.html
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