Gerard Fischer, Kathleen Barber (seated) and Dianne Spellberg speak to Department Service Officer School attendees about the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. on March 19. (Photo by Lucas Carter)

'Atomic troops' are eligible for benefits

Since 1990, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has operated a compensation program for eligible veterans who took part as servicemembers in any above-ground atomic testing from 1945 to 1962. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) program has approved 3,230 claims to date and awarded more than $234 million in benefits.

American Legion service officers learned about the RECA program Wednesday during the Legion's Department Service Officer (DSO) School in Washington, D.C. On-site participants in the testing can receive one-time payments of $75,000, while miners/ore transporters can get $100,000 apiece and "downwinders" (people living in nearby locales that were downwind of the atomic explosion sites) are eligible for $50,000 each.

The three DOJ representatives that spoke to DSO School attendees about RECA were Gerard Fischer, assistant director of DOJ's civil division, senior counsel Dianne Spellberg and paralegal specialist Kathleen Barber. Fischer said that while the program is administered by DOJ, the funding comes from the Department of Defense (DoD) – not the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans are eligible for RECA benefits if they were exposed to radiation and subsequently contracted illnesses covered by the program, including lymphomas (other than Hodgkin's Disease) and several varieties of cancer. Proof of identification must be submitted with a claim, along with proof of having a compensable disease and proof of exposure.

Any veteran exposed to the atmospheric detonation of an atomic device from July 16, 1945 (the Trinity Site explosion at Los Alamos, N.M.) to Dec. 31, 1962 (the last above-ground test conducted by the United States) is eligible for compensation. Besides Trinity, other test sites include those in Nevada, the South Atlantic and the Pacific (Bikini and Enewetak atolls, Johnston and Christmas islands).

Veterans seeking benefits need to submit their honorable discharge certificates, Radiation Exposure History reports if available, and any certificates of participation for any atmospheric tests. Written medical documentation must be submitted to establish the diagnosis of a compensable disease. For example, pathology reports, summary medical reports and radiology examination reports.

If an eligible veteran is deceased, the spouse, parents, children and/or grandchildren may be eligible for benefits.

Fischer said the RECA program is scheduled to end in 2022. For more information and a complete listing of compensable diseases, go to the DOJ RECA website.

Click here to download an Onsite Participant Claim Form. Claim forms for other categories are also available at the RECA website.

The U.S. conducted 219 above-ground atomic tests from 1945 to 1962. The practice was prohibited by the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which went into effect Oct. 10, 1963.