I invite you to cosponsor the bipartisan Atomic Veterans Service Medal Act. This billwouldrequire the Department of Defense to issue a service medal to the veterans or surviving families of those members of our Armed Forces who participated in above-ground nuclear weapons testing; were part of the U.S. military occupation forces in or around Hiroshima and Nagasaki before 1946; or were held as POWs in or near Hiroshima or Nagasaki. In 2015 and 2016, this provision was included in the House version of the NDAA.
Between 1945 and 1962, about 225,000 members of our Armed Forces participated in hundreds of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. These GIs became known as the Atomic Veterans. They were placed in extremely dangerous areas and constantly exposed to radiation in performance of their duties. Sworn to secrecy, they could not even speak to their families, friends, or doctors about their assignments.
Atomic Veterans have been recognized, identified and acknowledged as a discrete cohort of American veterans. They have been identified by the Department of Justice for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990; recognized as eligible for specialized testing and treatment by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs; a chapter is dedicated to describing their service and its lifetime effects in the landmark Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) report; and they were publicly acknowledged in the apology issued by President Clinton on October 3, 1995 upon release of the ACHRE final report.
In various ways, Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton acknowledged and recognized their valiant service and harrowing duty. In 2007, our allies Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia enacted the Atomic Veterans Medal Act, in which a special medal was authorized to honor their Atomic Veterans who served with the United States. Regrettably, the Pentagon remains silent on honoring their service, arguing that to do so would require the DOD to issue similar medals to any and all military personnel who undertake hazardous duty, including first responders, medical personnel and firemen.
More than 75 percent of Atomic Veterans have already passed away, never having received this recognition. Past Administrations and Congresses have dealt with the thornier issues of legality and compensation. What remains is recognizing these veterans’ duty, honor and faithful service to our nation. And time is running out.