In 2021, the Congresswoman Successfully Led the Bipartisan Effort Recognizing America’s Atomic Veterans after Hearing Directly from Virginia Veterans
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today released the following statement ahead of National Atomic Veterans Day, which President Joe Biden proclaimed for Sunday, July 16 — as required under a law led by Spanberger.
“July 16 marks the anniversary of the 1945 Trinity detonation in the New Mexico desert — the world’s first detonation of a nuclear device. In the wake of that first flash, thousands of servicemembers and personnel participated in nuclear tests. During their service, many of these Americans were exposed to toxic radiation. And for decades, they were required to keep their service a secret — meaning they were often prevented from sharing their stories, explaining their exposures to their doctor, or receiving the benefits their country owed them.
“By the time Congress finally repealed their secrecy requirement in 1996, thousands of these Americans had already passed away — the true nature of their service unknown to their loved ones. And still today, many Atomic Veterans struggle to receive the compensation and disability benefits they earned.
“On behalf of our Commonwealth’s Atomic Veterans, I was honored to lead the charge to make sure these patriots receive the recognition they deserve. National Atomic Veterans Day allows us to reflect on their contributions, express gratitude to their families, and educate the next generation about the critical role they played in keeping our nation safe.”
In December 2021, President Biden signed into law Spanberger’s legislation to recognize America’s Atomic Veterans every year. Spanberger’s law requires the President to issue a proclamation every year to observe National Atomic Veterans Day.
Atomic Veterans participated in nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, served with U.S. military forces in or around Hiroshima and Nagasaki before 1946, or were held as prisoners of war in or near Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Due to their exposure to unsafe levels of radiation during their service, many of these Atomic Veterans developed serious health complications. Additionally, as these Veterans were sworn to secrecy, many of them were prevented from seeking medical care or disability compensation and were never fully recognized for their sacrifice.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan first designated July 16 as “National Atomic Veterans’ Day.” The day was “dedicated to those patriotic Americans who through their participation in these tests helped lead the United States to the forefront of technology in defense of our great Nation and the freedoms we as Americans hold so dear.”
On July 16, 2021, Spanberger spoke alongside Virginia Veterans on National Atomic Veterans Day to recognize the critical role Atomic Veterans played in protecting the United States. Spanberger was joined by representatives from the National Association of Atomic Veterans, American Legion, Virginia Department of Veterans Services, Fawn Lake Veterans Group, and Virginia War Memorial.
Earlier that year, Spanberger led the introduction of a bipartisan resolution that called on the President to issue a proclamation in observance of National Atomic Veterans Day — which he recognized.