In the late 1940’s, the Marshall Islands were used as nuclear testing sites. Members of the Army were deployed in the 1960’s to clean up the waste that was left behind at the remote, Pacific islands. For many veterans, the exposure to radiation and other elements on the island have produced long-term effects. Some veterans feel like the government has turned their back on them and their time served on the islands.
Veteran Jeff Dean of Maine said, “I am a stage four cancer survivor. We deserve to be recognized and we need the medical assistance, you know? There are a lot of people who are now sick and battling for their lives.”
Specifically, Dean and fellow veteran, Laird, helped with the clean up of Enewetak Island for a span of several months. Dean was well aware that it would be a dirty job, but he was proud to be able to serve his country. Both veterans claim that the Army said there was not any danger from being exposed while on the mission. Multiple soldiers were give radon badges to monitor the amount of radiation or nuclear waste they were being exposed to. However, the badges did not detect another hazard: the content of the air they were breathing.
Since the cleanup of the Marshall Islands, many veterans who were working there have been diagnosed with cancer. Laird thought he might have been lucky until several years ago when he was simultaneously diagnosed with kidney and bladder cancer.
“My three friends who are very sick right now, they have been documented as exposure to radiation,” claims Dean. Even though they have been documented, the United States government has not officially recognized the group as “atomic veterans.”
According to federal law, funding is available for veterans who were exposed to radiation, or Atomic Vets. The members of the Enewetak clean up are not considered such, so they are unable to attain assistance with medical bills. The Enewetak Atomic Clean-Up Veterans group is pushing to be recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs and be included in the Atomic Vets category. The office of one senator, Angus King, said it has been made aware of the issue and has contacted the VA.
Laird stated, “a lot of people look at us as if we weren’t in a wartime situation, so they look down on you because we never got shot. We did get shot at, but it was with invisible bullets that went right through our body and they are still there. They are inside us right now and can take any of us out at any time.”
Veterans who were apart of the Enewetak clean-up or those who would like more information can visit the Enewetak Atomic Clean-Up Veterans group website.
The Archuleta Law Firm handles injury, death, and veterans medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. We handle claims in all 50 States and Worldwide. Our focus is helping Veterans, and the families of Veterans and Military Service Members in their claims involving Veterans (VA) Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics and Military Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics. We handle claims involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.
Source: WCSH6 – Portland