Bill Recognizes “Atomic Veterans” Exposed to Radiation in Nuclear Weapons Tests


Washington (May 26, 2017) – This week, Representatives Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) reintroduced The Atomic Veterans Service Medal Act, a bipartisan and bicameral bill that would authorize the award of a military service medal to members of the Armed Forces who were exposed to ionizing radiation as a result of participation in the testing of nuclear weapons or under other circumstances. 


Between 1945 and 1962, about 225,000 members of our Armed Forces participated in hundreds of 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 of their service. U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton recognized their valiant service, and acted to provide specialized care and compensation for their harrowing duty.

“As part of our country’s nuclear program, hundreds of thousands of brave U.S. servicemembers – our Atomic Vets -- participated in atmospheric tests, exposing themselves to grave risks, without true recognition for their sacrifice,” Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said.  “Many of these brave patriots suffered from radiation-related diseases and other health issues. As a nation, we must honor their sacrifice, and this legislation takes an important step in that direction.”

“America has a responsibility to honor all of our veterans and the sacrifices they made to serve our country. Tragically, many of these Atomic Veterans have already died, without receiving recognition. They kept a code of silence that likely led to many passing away too soon,” Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. “It is long past time for the Defense Department to honor their unique service with a medal recognizing all that they and their families have done to keep us safe. This bipartisan bill will help us to finally right this wrong and I urge Congress to pass it.”

“Our veterans are the best our nation has to offer,” said Congressman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.). “They dedicate their lives and sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms and liberties, so the least we can do is show them our immense gratitude. Unfortunately, we have since lost many of our Atomic Veterans, but I am honored to work with Congressman McGovern and Senator Markey to ensure these brave soldiers get the recognition they deserve.”


Keith Kiefer, the Director of the National Association of Atomic Veterans said, “The National Association of Atomic Veterans has worked hard to achieve acknowledgement of the consequences of exposure to the invisible bullets of radiation exposure. We thank Congressmen McGoven and Emmer and Senator Markey for spearheading our cause in the 2017 legislative session.”


Joining Congressmen McGovern and Emmer as original cosponsors of the House bill include Representatives Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.).