WTOP: Rep. Spanberger looks to raise awareness for ‘atomic veterans’

WTOP, CAMERON DELEAN

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is looking to call attention to Atomic Veterans Day today, July 16, marking the 78th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear device detonation.

“In the wake of that first flash, thousands of servicemembers and personnel participated in nuclear tests,” Spanberger, of Virginia’s 7th District, said in a news release Friday. “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.”

Spanberger added, “By the time Congress finally repealed their secrecy requirement in 1996, thousands of these Americans had already passed away — the true nature of their service unknown to their loved ones.”

Trinity was the code name of the nuclear weapon and the experiment took place in the New Mexico desert with a team of engineers led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, as part of the Manhattan Project. Following that first detonation, thousands of servicemembers participated in nuclear tests.

Atomic veterans are recognized as those who participated in nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, served with U.S. military forces in or around the nuclear bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan before 1946 or were held prisoners of war in or near Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Due to their exposure to unsafe levels of radiation during their service, many of the veterans developed serious health complications, such as cancer.

Additional key moments related to atomic veterans include:

In 1979, Orville E. Kelly founded the National Association of Atomic Veterans to allow the U.S. Atomic Veteran Community to get a fair hearing related to their developing health issues that may have been precipitated by their exposure to “ionizing” radiation while participating in a nuclear weapon test detonation or a “post-test” event.

On July 5, 2022, the secretary of defense established the Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal to recognize and honor the service of veterans who were instrumental in the development of the country’s atomic and nuclear weapons programs.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan first designated July 16 as National Atomic Veterans’ Day. Since then, atomic veterans have received thousands in compensation for health costs caused by radiation exposure.

In 2021, Spanberger led the introduction of a bipartisan resolution that requires the president to issue a proclamation every year to observe National Atomic Veterans Day.

“Still today, many Atomic Veterans struggle to receive the compensation and disability benefits they earned,” Spanberger said in the release. “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.”

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