CBS19: Honoring the work of U.S.’s Atomic Veterans


President Joe Biden proclaimed that July 16 is National Atomic Veterans Day.

An event was held at the Virginia War Memorial on Friday to honor veterans who were exposed to harmful levels of radiation during their service.

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger attended the event along with veterans from the Central Virginia region.

Those who are called Atomic Veterans participated in nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, were with U.S. military forces in or around Hiroshima and Nagasaki before 1946, or were held as prisoners of war in or near those two Japanese cities.

“The stories of Atomic Veterans are important for remembering our past. They are the stories of those who served, stories of their dangerous and secret missions, and stories of a complex and veiled history as the United States rose to prominence as the most powerful nation in the world. With the proclamation of July 16, 2021 as National Atomic Veterans Day, we have a unique opportunity to honor the contributions of America’s Atomic Veterans, and we have a chance to recommit our support to these Atomic Veterans and educate ourselves about the role they played in keeping our nation safe,” said Spanberger. 

Atomic Veterans were exposed to unsafe levels of radiation, and many have since developed serious health complications.

As many of these veterans were sworn to secrecy regarding their activities, they had issues seeking medical care or getting disability compensation.

“For nearly 50 years, I and many others were sworn to secrecy about the work we did for our country in the military, work which regularly exposed us to radiation. While I have been blessed with health, many of the individuals I served with suffered from the consequences of being exposed to radiation and were prevented by their oaths from seeking the proper medical care or VA disability benefits,” said Gillie Jenkins, Director of State Commanders and Director at Large of the National Association of Atomic Veterans in Chesterfield County. “It is important for our country to know about atomic veterans. We’re the forgotten group. I thank Representative Spanberger and the Biden Administration for recognizing the important role played by the atomic veterans in the defense of our nation.”

Back in 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan designated July 16 as National Atomic Veterans’ Day, dedicated to Americans who helped lead the country to the front in defense technology.

Spanberger says she will be working to have the designation become an annual one.

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