Depending on where you were stationed or what kind of equipment you used, you may be a veteran that was exposed to radiation from waste, weapons, or equipment. If you served in a place that had radioactive materials and developed symptoms of radiation-related illnesses, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. Take a look at the details below and give us a call to talk about your options. The call is free to get your case started for you or your deceased spouse.
In this article about VA benefits for atomic veterans:
- What Radiation-Related Illnesses Qualify for VA Disability Benefits
- How Did Veterans Get Exposed to Radiation?
- Proving You Were A Veteran At A Nuclear Test Site
- Who Does the VA Consider Atomic Veterans?
- How To Figure Out if Your Dad Was an Atomic Veteran
- Veterans Disability for Lung Cancer
- Leukemia Veterans Disability Benefits
- Lymphoma Veterans Disability Benefits
- Veterans Disability for Bone, Liver, and Other Cancers
- Getting Help and Support as an Atomic Vet
Our VA Disability Lawyers talk about Atomic Veteran Disability Claims:
The worst thing about applying for VA radioactive disability benefits is that it often takes more time than you have. Whether the government is stalling on purpose or if they are still learning about the full effects of radiation exposure on US service members in the 50s, many of the atomic veterans die before their disability cases are decided. That doesn’t mean your case ends! We will continue to fight for your case on behalf of your surviving dependents.
What Radiation-Related Illnesses Qualify for VA Disability Benefits
There are dozens of cancers that are presumptive service connections if you were exposed to radiation in the military. Since these are presumptive, you don’t have to prove they were caused by the military. Usually, you have to have a nexus that proves your disability was caused or made worse because you were a soldier. In presumptive cases, the VA admits that your disability is service-connected and you just have to prove that you were in a certain place at a certain time.
The List of Presumptive Conditions for Radioactive Exposure:
- Cancers of the bile ducts, bone, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, gall bladder, liver (primary site, but not if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated)
- Lung cancer (including bronchiolo-alveolar cancer)
- Cancers of the pancreas, pharynx, ovary, salivary gland, small intestine
- Stomach cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Urinary tract cancer (kidney/renal, pelvis, urinary bladder, and urethra)
- Leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
- Lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease)
- Multiple myeloma (cancer of plasma cells)
If you have been diagnosed with any of these and you think you were exposed to radioactive materials, you should apply for VA disability right away. If you are a surviving spouse and your deceased veteran had any of those conditions, you can still call us and learn about DIC benefits for you and other surviving relatives.
How Did Veterans Get Exposed to Radiation?
Once World War II was over, the United States moved into the Cold War in light of the atomic bomb. Nuclear weapons testing happened in Nevada and throughout the South Pacific because everything we knew about nuclear bombs was new. The US took cows and pigs and other animals out to study their exposure to radioactive blasts. While very few Americans were subjected directly to the blasts, these troops were the first to bring those pigs and cows back for observation. Since it wasn’t known yet how dangerous it was to be around radioactive cows, all of those service members were exposed. Many of them wore T-Shirts or were shirtless in the heat of the South Pacific.
Operation Hardtack in the summer of 1958 involved 19,000 personnel for 35 nuclear blasts. While water and weather conditions were monitored closely, there were still a lot of atmospheric effects that those folks had to work in.
Before that, Operation Plumbob was a series of tests in Nevada just north of Las Vegas in what is now known as Area 51. These were the main tests on livestock. It drew a lot of attention from the media because surrounding states could feel the ground shake and sometimes even see the flashes of light in San Francisco AND Los Angeles.
One press event included Generals standing on the ground 20,000 feet below an in-air detonation to show how safe atomic blasts could be. All of those men lived beyond that day but lived shortened lives.
Proving You Were A Veteran At A Nuclear Test Site
For presumptive service connections, all you have to do is prove that you were in the right place at the right time. There were many soldiers exposed to radiation in Nevada, so you don’t have to have been in the South Pacific. There are even troops that were sent in the late 1980s to clean up beaches that were full of radioactive material. If you have a letter or even pictures from any of those deployments, you qualify for a presumptive service connection.
Who Does the VA Consider Atomic Veterans?
Atomic Veterans is a slang term, not the official VA term, but that is a technicality that is fading away. It has taken a couple of different rounds of the legislature for the government to recognize you guys, but progress is being made. You are considered “Atomic” if you are a veteran that can prove that you:
- Participated in atmospheric and certain underground nuclear tests
- Took part in the American occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan
- Certain veterans who were POWs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- Served at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Ky., Portsmouth, Ohio, and area K25 at Oak Ridge, Tenn.
How To Figure Out if Your Dad Was an Atomic Veteran
When it comes to getting DIC benefits for surviving spouses and children of Atomic Veterans, you need two key pieces of evidence. You’ll need proof of diagnosis of one of the presumptive illnesses and you’ll need proof that your veteran was in one of the radioactive sites. You may have heard stories about events in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Japan, Bikini Atoll, any number of South Pacific islands, or even Nevada, Kentucky, Ohio, or Tennessee.
The Location Piece of the Puzzle
If you have any letters to home, service records, medical records, or pictures that show the time and the place where your veteran worked, you may want to put that at the top of your application. Exposed service members had rashes, bowel problems, hearing problems, and a number of breathing problems in the months or years following exposure. Military doctors might not have immediately attributed these symptoms to radioactive exposure because the world was still in the early stages of understanding radioactivity.
Men and women in the 1980s shoveled radioactive sand into barges while wearing no protective clothing. Once the work was done, they rode back to the mainland in the same barges that had just been full of radioactive sand. Any of that sand that came into contact with their skin or that was accidentally ingested or inhaled would bring them into direct radioactive contact.
Many of the veterans involved in these tests were sworn to absolute secrecy above and beyond the normal call of duty. These Cold War tests were carried out under great scrutiny and developed many of the modern-day conspiracy theories around Area 51. (They also spurred a ton of fifties and sixties science-fiction and of course Godzilla.)
The secret oaths about the testing weren’t void until 1996 at which point many of the soldiers that were there would be 56 years old or older. Until now, many of those affected didn’t seek medical care because they honored their duty to keep the information private. They saw it as part of what they signed up for. That is honorable, but the VA is now offering those vets compensation for their medical problems caused by their work for the United States government at that time.
The Disabling Condition Piece of the Puzzle
There are more illnesses being linked to radioactive exposure every year. As recently as mid-2019, the Atomic Veterans Service Certificate was formed to recognize people that served in radioactive settings. Just serving isn’t enough to get VA compensation, however. You have to have one of the listed conditions that qualify for VA disability benefits.
It’s worth applying for VA benefits and triggering the VA’s duty to assist in getting you fully checked out and rated for your disabilities. A C&P exam will get your diagnosis official for your VA application. If any of the conditions on the presumptive list come up, you are that much closer to getting VA benefits.
Veterans Disability for Lung Cancer
Various forms of lung cancer can be caused by radiation exposure. Dozens of nuclear tests happened at ground level or in the sky. These atmospheric nuclear tests spread waste for hundreds of miles. The US government didn’t know it would spread so far when they did the testing, which was part of the testing itself. Residents of the Marshall Islands had to be rescued and moved to other islands to live as the wind and rain carried the fallout further than weather monitors predicted.
Rescue teams for the islanders breathed in radioactive materials as well as the engineers designing the bombs. Any of these sorts of contact, from grunt to officer, increases the risk for lung cancer. If you have any form of lung cancer, make sure you work with your doctor or VA Disability Lawyer to show a nexus from your military service around radioactive materials to your lung cancer.
Leukemia Veterans Disability Benefits
Leukemia is cancer that shows itself by the increased production of abnormal, often white, blood cells. Many studies have linked leukemia exposure to ionizing radiation. Even today in the private sector, companies are working to reduce exposure to ionizing radiation so that their employees will not get leukemia from their workplace.
Even if your veteran worked in one of these civilian facilities listed in the report on Leukemia and ionizing radiation, they can still get presumptive service connection if they worked around radioactive materials while they were enlisted. You have to prove to the VA that there is a 50% chance that your disability is service-connected. If a veteran worked around nukes in the service but didn’t talk about what he or she did and then went on to work in the nuclear private sector, there is a good chance that they were a military nuke. All of this can help you build your case for your veteran.
Lymphoma Veterans Disability Benefits
Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL) shows up in older adults and is still being fully researched. Due to its connection at this point with radiation, it is the only kind of lymphoma that is presumptive with radiation exposure. If you know a veteran that died of NHL, it’s worth checking their history to see if they ever worked around radioactive materials.
A surviving widow or widower can receive back-pay from the day of diagnosis to the time of a deceased veteran’s death. After that, he or she can receive benefits for his or her lifetime as a surviving spouse. That’s why it’s always worth it, after a veteran passes away, to check with a VA lawyer to see if you are eligible for any more DIC benefits. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) claims won’t cost you anything unless we win your case. We’ve helped hundreds of families pay off funeral expenses, pay off debts, and even get new roofs after a loved one passed away as a result of their VA disability.
It is a hard time, but the burden can be lessened with help from us and the VA.
Veterans Disability for Bone, Liver, and Other Cancers
There is a long list of cancers that are connected to radiation testing by the military. Bile duct cancer and other liver cancers can take a long time to show up. Bone cancers, pancreatic cancer, and cancers of the mouth, throat, and digestive system are also diseases that can show up decades after radiation exposure.
If you have been diagnosed with any of these forms of cancer or if your loved one died from any of these, you’ll want to look into their deployments while in the military. There is no time limit for how long after their death you can apply for VA benefits. If you meet one of their old war-buddies and they are getting VA benefits, contact us to see if your deceased veteran should have been receiving the same benefits.
Getting Help and Support as an Atomic Vet
There is a national organization called the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV) that works together to support one another. They have helped lobby for the radiation exposure compensation act. The government is slowly coming around to helping veterans and their families that were victims of forced exposure and it’s good to be informed and on these lists to know what new laws are passed for this group.
Just this year, 2019, the Atomic Veterans Service Certificate was created. You can find out how to apply for it here. As you get your materials together to apply for the AVSC, make copies of everything because you’ll use the same paperwork with us to file your VA disability claim. We can help you with that atomic veteran service certificate too as we help you with your claim. It’s worth it to get your disability claim in as soon as possible since approval can take years.
If you think that you might have a case from this article, please call and talk to our case managers as soon as possible to get your case started right.
You might. A veteran doesn’t need to die of a service-connected disability for the surviving family members to receive benefits. If he was diagnosed with any cancers and served in the South Pacific, no matter what his cause of death, it’s worth contacting a VA disability lawyer for a free review of your case.
In 1996, the U.S. Congress repealed the Nuclear Radiation Secrecy Agreement Act, which rescinded the oath-of-secrecy for Atomic Veterans. If your oath falls under that, you are all set to claim your disability. See this brochure for more information for atomic veterans.
No, it is not too late. If you have some paperwork to show when and where they served, you can still apply for DIC benefits for surviving family members of veterans. There is no time limit for applying.