Veterans who were exposed to radiation in the military between 1945 and 1992 can apply for the newly created Atomic Veterans Service Certificate signed by Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper.Application for the certificate is open to retired and former Service members, or next of kin in cases of deceased veterans, Defense Department officials said.
DOD tasked the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to manage the certificate program, because it already keeps a database of radiation-exposed veterans, DOD officials said.
According to the DTRA website, during World War II, thousands of Service members were involved in the secret program to build an atomic bomb–the same project that DTRA traces its roots back to–known as the Manhattan Project. Thousands more were part of the U.S. occupation of Japan immediately after the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan’s unconditional surrender. After the war ended, through decades of the Cold War, many more troops were involved in atmospheric and underground testing of nuclear weapons.
Authorized in the John S.McCain National DefenseAuthorizationAct for fiscalyear 2019, theAVSC is intendedto recognize all veterans who were orcould have been exposedto radiation during their serviceto the nation, the website says.
Atmospheric, Underground Testing
Potentially affected veterans include the original atomic veterans from atmospheric testing conducted from 1945 to 1962, and underground testing conducted from 1951 to 1992.
Issued so DOD can honor radiation-exposed veterans, the certificate does not carry any other value or entitle the bearer to benefits, said Doug Johnson, DOD’s assistant director for military decorations and awards policy.
“(The certificate) provides recognition to Service members who were exposed to radiation while serving in the military,” he said.
“The law that was passed does require the Department of Defense to use the Veterans Affairs definition of a radiation-exposed veteran to make a determination, with regard to eligibility for the certificate,” Johnson said. “But, the certificate does not entitle a veteran to any kind of compensation or any type of benefit associated with that determination.”
550,000 Veterans May Qualify
DTRA maintains there are about 550,000 veterans who could qualify for the certificate in accordance with defining statutes, noted Navy Lt. Lee A. Alleman, the agency’s military program manager for the Nuclear Test Personnel Review and deputy, Nuclear Survivability Division.
“We also estimate that approximately 80,000 of the original cohort –World War II veterans – remainalive out of 493,000 (exposed veterans),” Alleman wrote in an email.
To be considered for the certificate, DOD and DTRA officials emphasize that applications must be filed through:
DTRA will keep a record of veterans whose military service met the certificate eligibility criteria and were awarded the AVSC.