FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- One of America's "atomic veterans" says he wants help from the Veterans Administration for arthritis he links to exposure from atomic bomb testing in the 1950s.
About 400,000 American servicemen and civilians fell under the category of "atomic veterans" after being exposed to radiation following the U.S. atomic attacks on Japan that brought World War II to an end and during above-ground nuclear bomb tests. A number of soldiers such as former Marine James D. Tyler who were positioned within miles of the blast sites consider themselves "guinea pig ground grunts."
The 72-year-old Burleson, Texas, man was an 18-year-old member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, when he and the rest of his unit were moved from their base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to the Nevada Test Site northwest of Las Vegas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Saturday.
He and his buddies were placed a mere 5 miles away from the blast site in a 6-foot ditch with no more protection than their normal combat gear.
It was an experiment.
"I think they wanted to see what it would do to us," Tyler said. "I think they were trying to see how close they could put us to it and not kill us right then."
"These guys were sworn to secrecy," said R.J. Ritter, national commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans. "For the official record, it didn't happen. They were told by a CID officer, 'What you saw and heard here today didn't happen.' Now after all these years they're free to tell their story, but they are hard-pressed to find someone old enough, including in the military, to understand that it happened."
Many "atomic veterans" try to get compensation in their old age but many decide the bureaucratic fight isn't worth it for "a couple of hundred dollars," Ritter said.
Tyler, who has arthritis and glaucoma, said, "I'm just mad. They've run me around for so many years."
The VA has rejected his requests for benefits.
"There is no biological plausibility to link radiation and arthritis," said Dr. Terry Walters, deputy chief consultant for post-deployment health in the VA's Office of Public Health in Washington.