Are you an "Atomic Veteran?"
An "Atomic Veteran" is specifically defined in legislation as a Veteran who, as part of his or her military service:
- participated in an above-ground nuclear test, 1945 – 1962; OR
- was part of the U.S. military occupation forces in or around Hiroshima or Nagasaki before August 1946; OR
- in some cases, was held as a POW in or near Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
If you are an Atomic Veteran and you have developed one of several specific cancers or nonmalignant conditions, you may be eligible for compensation and⁄or free Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care. If you had a qualifying cancer or condition that was cured or removed, you may still be entitled to compensation if you have residual disability from the condition or its treatments. This compensation would be in the form of a partial or full service-connected disability allowance, including potential payments to your surviving spouse or children. The compensation is because you may have been exposed to ionizing radiation during your military service and that exposure may have caused your cancer or condition.
What should I do if I think I am an Atomic Veteran and think my health has been affected by my military service radiation exposure?
You have three choices:
- contact the VA at 800-827-1000, or
- go to http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/ to file a claim, or
- call your local VA medical center for an examination and possible treatment.
This website (www.vbdr.org) has additional information that may help you better understand the compensation program and appropriate contacts. Established by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and VA at the request of Congress, the goal of the Veterans' Advisory Board on Dose Reconstruction (VBDR) is to improve the compensation program for Atomic Veterans.
In filing a claim with VA, you need to provide sufficient information about when and where you participated in military service, but you do not need to have information about the radiation dose you received.
Claims may also be filed by surviving spouses and qualifying children who believe that a Veteran's death was due to exposure to ionizing radiation during military service.
What are the cancers or conditions for which Atomic Veterans may get compensated?
There are two categories of cancers or conditions you should know about:
1. Presumptive Cancers
If you have developed a "presumptive cancer," which is presumed to be due to radiation exposure during your military service, all you have to do is verify that you are an Atomic Veteran to be eligible for disability compensation. Your service connection is established without considering the dose received. There are 21 presumptive cancers defined by law: Leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia); cancer of the thyroid, breast, pharnyx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary tract (kidneys, renal pelvis, ureter, urinary bladder and urethra), bone, brain, colon, lung, and ovary; lymphomas (except Hodgkin's disease); multiple myleoma; primary liver cancer (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated); and bronchio-alveolar carcinoma (a rare lung cancer).
2. Non-presumptive cancers or conditions
If you have developed a "non-presumptive cancer or condition," i.e., a cancer or condition not on the above list, VA will consider additional factors to determine your exposure. These include the amount of your radiation exposure and the elapsed time between exposure and the onset of disease. An estimate of your radiation dose will be prepared by the Nuclear Test Personnel Review (NTPR) Program. That estimate is based on scientific principles, records maintained by the Department of Defense, and information you have provided to VA and DTRA.
In some cases, a cancer on the presumptive list may require a dose estimate in order for VA to establish entitlement. Most often, this is necessary if the date of diagnosis occurred before the date that the specific disease was added to the presumptve list. Also, some nonmalignant conditions (such as nonmalignant thyroid nodular disease, posterior subcapsular cataract, and parathyroid adenoma) may be eligible for compensation.
What is a dose reconstruction, and how long does it take?
Dose Reconstruction is a commonly accepted scientific method that is used to estimate how much radiation a Veteran received during military service. It takes into account many factors, including the nature of the Veteran's military service, where he or she was at the time of the nuclear detonation, how close he or she was to the resulting contamination after the detonation, and the nature of the device being tested. All assumptions used in estimating the Veteran's dose are made in his or her favor to maximize the likelihood that compensation will be awarded.
The time to complete a dose reconstruction varies for each Veteran. Currently the average for a dose reconstruction from initial
inquiry to final response is less than 50 days.
Who makes the determination on medical claims and adjudication of claims?
VA is solely responsible for making medical determinations regarding the service connection of disabilities and administering benefits associated with radiation exposure. VA makes compensation decisions based on participation status information, dose estimates/reconstructions, scientific assessment of the likelihood that the exposure caused the disease, and medical evidence. When deciding service connection for a non-presumptive condition, the dose estimate provided by DTRA is the starting point for making the medical decision as to whether the exposure was sufficient for the cancer or condition to be eligible for compensation under the law.
If I file a claim for a non-presumptive cancer or condition, how likely is it I'll be compensated?
Service connection depends on your type of cancer, the estimate of your radiation dose, and other factors. If your disease is determined to be service-connected, then you may be compensated at a level set by your disability rating. The way the laws work, your service connection is determined by the probability that your cancer or condition was caused by your service-related exposure. That probability is called the "probability of causation," or PC. Your disease is considered to be service connected if your PC is 50% or more. The analysis has built in two "benefits of the doubt" for you. The first is that the estimate of your dose is an upper-bound value. The second is that this upper-bound dose is then used to calculate an upper-bound estimate of probability of causation. But even with those assumptions made in your favor, for most cancers, the doses are typically far below the amount of radiation needed for a PC of 50%. So if you file a claim, you still might not get compensation. On the other hand, those two benefits of the doubt "stack up" so that many Veterans may be compensated even when the true probability that their service-related radiation exposure caused the disease is low.
It should be noted that even with a 0% disability rating (resulting in no compensation), a Veteran with a service-connected disease is still eligible for free VA medical care. That is a tangible benefit other than compensation.
I was told not to discuss my involvement in nuclear tests because this was classified information. So how can I file a claim?
In 1996, The Repeal of Nuclear Radiation and Secrecy Agreements was passed. This law states that Atomic Veterans are free to describe their military involvement in nuclear testing as necessary to establish the validity of a service-connected disability.
Is there any other way for me to seek compensation?
Yes. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has a different compensation program for which you may be eligible, called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (RECA). To contact the DOJ, call 800-729-7327, or go to www.usdoj.gov/civil/torts/const/reca.
Whether or not you have a cancer, sign up with the Ionizing Radiation Registry!
- You receive a free radiation-related medical exam.
- Your data become part of a potentially useful database.
To sign up, contact your nearest VA medical center or call 800-827-1000 and ask about the program.
Where can I get more information?
VA can be reached at 800-827-1000 or http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/
NTPR can be reached at 800-462-3683 or www.dtra.mil/SpecialFocus/NTPR/NTPRHome.aspx
VBDR can be reached at 703-767-3175 or throught this site www.vbdr.org