After many years of fighting for recognition of their sacrifices to their country, including getting cancer and dying, a commemorative service medal for Atomic Veterans (veterans exposed to radiation while serving) is finally happening.
In late December, Congress passed a law instructing the Pentagon to design and create an “Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal” for those who were “instrumental in the development of our nation’s atomic and nuclear weapons programs.”
Who would be qualified for the new medal isn’t specified; the law leaves the secretary of defense to determine eligibility. Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee can weigh in on any recommendations.
However, at least 225,000 veterans helped develop and test the US’s nuclear capability, making them possibly eligible for the medal.
Supporters say that over 400,000 more US veterans should be included. Arguing that they were exposed during cleanup efforts over the past 75 years.
“I’m putting together a list right now about individuals that should be classified or qualified as an atomic veteran; whether [DoD] accepts that or not remains to be seen,” Keith Kiefer said, president of the National Association of Atomic Veterans.
Commemorative Service Medal For Atomic Veterans
The Pentagon said it must go through several steps before sending medals to veterans. They must establish eligibility criteria, design a medal, find the funding for and procure the awards, and establish procedures to apply.
“We are working diligently to finalize the medal’s design, to develop and coordinate eligibility criteria, and to submit the proposed eligibility criteria to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and House of Representatives for comment pursuant to [the law],” said Lisa Lawrence, Pentagon spokesperson.
The fight for legislation has been spear headed by the National Association of Atomic Veterans. They hoped the recognition would improve disability benefits for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Justice Department.
“The recognition often means a lot more to the spouses and the children of the veterans than the atomic veterans themselves,” Kiefer said. “This has been a much tougher battle than it should have been.”
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