The US took a trusteeship role over Micronesia in 1946, a large group of islands in the Pacific, and five days later those islands became the Pacific Proving Ground. The islanders were moved off and the US spent nearly twenty years detonating nuclear bombs on the islands, then left them, covered with plutonium and other radioactive waste blowing in the wind and seeping into the Pacific ocean.
When the US was forced by threat of lawsuit by the Enewetak Islanders to clean up the nuclear waste left behind, they used military personnel to save money. Safety gear, respirators and monitoring equipment were ineffective in the humid heat of the local climate, and there was not enough of it to protect all of the servicemen brought to work on cleanup. One veteran remembers asking for a mask, and being told there were no masks, to use a tee-shirt instead.
In 1988, Congress passed a law granting automatic medical coverage for veterans involved in the bombing, but the veterans who did the cleanup without adequate safety gear were excluded. One veteran recalls being given new safety gear to put on, and after his picture was taken by the military, the gear was removed and stored, and he went to work in shorts and sandals, with no shirt and no other safety gear.
Today veterans who participated in the cleanup report cancers, osteoporosis, birth defects in children, and other well documented health effects of exposure to nuclear waste. After being repeatedly denied by the VA, who relied on readings and documentation of broken or failed or nonexistent safety equipment, Congressman Takai from Hawaii wrote a bill called the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, specifically to address the inequity for veterans involved in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll. The bill has been sitting in committee since the end of 2015. There is a Facebook group for Enewetak cleanup veterans to share information and support.
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