FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 14, 2017
Contact: Representative Ron Tusler (608) 266-5831
Legislature Proclaims July 16, 2017 National Atomic Veterans Day In Wisconsin
Rep. Tusler Honors Third District “Atomic Veteran”
Forest Junction, WI – Today, the Wisconsin legislature passed a resolution introduced by Representative Ron Tusler (R - Harrison) proclaiming July 16, 2017 as National Atomic Veterans Day in Wisconsin. An “Atomic Veteran” is a veteran who participated in nuclear weapons tests between 1945 and 1962 and other situations where military personnel were exposed to radiation. At least 220,000 American service men and women witnessed and participated in these tests, or served in forces occupying Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately following World War II.
“I was very honored to introduce this resolution honoring our Atomic Veterans, a group that has been seldom recognized for their sacrifice and service,” said Rep. Tusler. “When my constituent, Jerome Gehl, wrote to me about Atomic Veterans, I knew I had to do something.”
Jerome Gehl, a resident of Buchanan and native of Forest Junction, wrote to Rep. Tusler in May and told him about Atomic Veterans. Gehl enlisted in the Army when he was 17 years old and served from 1956 to 1959. He was a member of the 1st Provisional Military Police Company and assigned to the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. His company guarded sensitive sites that were integral to the United States’ nuclear weapons program in the Cold War.
In 1956 Gehl was stationed at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean during Operation Hardtack I. In the course of that operation, 35 nuclear weapons were tested. Gehl received 500 REM of radiation – five times the amount of radiation required for radiation sickness and over one thousand times the amount a person is normally exposed to in a year.
The military personnel, like Gehl, who participated in these activities were sworn to secrecy. Congress rescinded the secrecy agreement in 1996 so these veterans could seek medical care for their radiation exposure. Unfortunately, many of these “Atomic Veterans” passed away before the secrecy order was rescinded and were unable to receive medical treatment. The only recognition Atomic Veterans received was in 1983 when President Reagan proclaimed July 16, 1983 as National Atomic Veterans Day. That date was chosen because it was the date of the first nuclear weapons test at the Trinity Site in New Mexico in 1945.
“I am happy to honor Mr. Gehl for his service, as well as all Atomic Veterans, and raise awareness for those Atomic Veterans, and their families, who can still seek treatment and compensation,” said Rep. Tusler.
Veterans who think they may be an Atomic Veteran can seek information about potential adverse health conditions by contacting the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 or logging onto this website: www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation.
The Department of Justice administers a different compensation program authorized by the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which provides compensation for individuals or family members of those who contracted certain illnesses due to their exposure to atmospheric nuclear testing or uranium industry employment. For more information about this program and to determine if you or a family member is eligible, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/civil/common/reca. Claims under the RECA must be filed by July 9, 2022.