Our Atomic Health

Veterans Health Initiative Veterans and Radiation - Revised Independent Study Course Released: August 2004. Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs - Employee Education System

Veterans Health Initiative Veterans and Radiation – Revised Independent Study Course Released: August 2004. Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Employee Education System


We are but a few of the Survivors of the 1977-1980 Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission in the Marshall Islands.

Our secondary focus is to urge Congress to change the current laws and recognize soldiers of the cleanup mission as “veterans who participated in radiation-risk activities during active service.”

Our main focus is to help each other with information and moral support during challenging times of our declining health.

As much as we appreciate our health practitioners, not every doctor, nurse, nor medical technician is experienced with identifying nor treating patients with illnesses caused by exposure to radiation.

The Veterans Administration published a 5 hour continuing education coursebook in an effort to help health practitioners who have Atomic Veterans as patients.

The 2004 Clinical Education Guide (Veterans Health Initiative) is called Veterans and Radiation.

It is mainly focused on understanding health issues of the Atomic Vets who participated in the 1944-1958 Atomic Testing and at Japan’s two bomb sites.

However, it would be naive to believe none of these health issues could apply to the soldiers who cleaned up radioactive debris and fallout from the tests at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Many of the atomic cleanup participants breathed and ingested radiation contaminated dust on a daily basis for 5-1/2 months at a time. Some of us participated in more than one tour and served for longer periods of time.

We had a mission. We bonded. We did our jobs. We served. Now we have health issues. Some of our family members have inherited health issues.

Encourage your health practitioners to download and read the very specific information regarding heath care of veterans exposed to radiation.

But before you share it with them, download and read it for your own knowledge. Pay particular attention to the Presumptive List of Cancers due to exposure to IR in service on page 57 of the PDF document.

I am in awe of F. Lincoln Grahlfs’ recollection of his exposure to radiation after the end of the war and the challenges he experienced while trying to get the VA to help him and his family. Many of his challenges of dealing with the military and congress as an Atomic Veteran is very similar to our difficulties and feelings as Atomic Cleanup Vets. His observations and statistics are equally impressive.

We can change our situation by continuing to share information and encouraging others to do the same.

We urge our supporters to encourage their politicians to create legislation which will include us in the U.S. Government’s definition of a veteran “who participated in radiation-risk activities during active service.”

Article written by Girard Frank Bolton, III. 1977-1979 Atomic Debris Cleanup Participant with C Company and HHC S-3 (Operations) of the 84th Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy) (Fwd) Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands.

Source material content for this article was found on websites owned by the Veterans Administration.

10 thoughts on “Our Atomic Health

  1. Timothy Q. Clinton here. I served with 84th Eng. Bat. on Enewetak in 1979. Had several colonoscopies since 1981… heart problems, histoplasmosis, osteoporosis, stomach problems since 1981, muscle aches, head aches… no one else in my family has these problems.

  2. It is very sad that the government does not consider cleanup veterans as exposed to radiation. It is equally as sad that people who volunteered to assist this country are now having to sacrifice their lives and health and now have to fight for their own lives.

    • Thank you Jacky Hill. The government considers our exposure to be “occupational” radiation exposure instead of “at-risk” exposure to radiation. The saddest part, is even if they change the laws and grant us the “at-risk” exposure, they only cover specific “presumptive” cancers and do not cover other health issues (lung, digestive tract, reproductive, birth defects of our children) that were “more likely than not” caused by our radiation exposure. Plus, we have to prove we were at the atoll from records the government say they may or may not be able to find when we request copies. Keep in mind, the mission was considered “classified” during the 1977-1980 project and wasn’t de-classified and released for public access until 1996. We have several challenges to overcome, but our main focus is for Congress to change our status from “occupational” to “at-risk” exposure to radiation. Ease of access and burden of proof changes are secondary at this point. I encourage you and your friends to contact your federal representatives and ask them to help us by creating and passing legislation to change our status to “at-risk” exposure to radiation during our mission. Thank you! – Frank

  3. I was the youngest of our RB-50 aircrew at Eniwetok in 1958. We photographed Wahoo and Umbrella, the two Hydrogen bomb tests in the Eniwetok lagoon. I am led to believe over 400,000 individuals participated in nuclear testing before the above ground tests were discontinued in fall 1958. Of those 400,000 approximately 44,000 were estimated to have survived as of 2010. I have had heart problems since 1990 and the VA does not recognize the connection to ionizing radiation exposure and blood circulation disease. In 1995, after our disclosure agreement was waived, I was told by two private doctors that radiation indeed can lead to diseased arteries. In as much as it was not reported to VA within 10 years of separation it is considered as “not service related”

  4. In a non combat deployment, there are many invisible wounded veterans. Some wounds are not caused by bullets or mortar rounds or bombs or IEDs. These veterans suffer from PTSD and severe life threatening health issues. I am in no way undermining or comparing combat versus noncombat. I am just simple sharing the information of many non combat veterans that are experiencing the injustices of the veterans administration. These veterans also need equal treatment from our veterans administration. Their spouses and off spring are also experiencing the effects of exposure of various toxins. They are either infertile or the offspring are born with various birth defects, disabilities, cancers, and leukemia’s among other health issues. These birth defects, health issues and infidelities will go on for generation after generation. The very sad part is that our government continues to sweep this matter under the rug.

  5. My husband has been struggling with the VA for several years now. He has been diagnosed with PTSD and was referred to classes for PTSD. When he attended his first meeting he was told because he was not a combat vet. he did not qualify for the PTSD classes. My husband may have not participated in combat but he was stationed on a 40 acre island in the middle of the south pacific ocean. 1 degree north of the equator. The temperatures were over 120 degrees. These troops were stuck there with no way off these islands. There were devastating typhoons, among other life threatening storms. They were a joint task force to clean up the radioactive fallout after 43 nuclear weapons. As you can imagine, radiation cannot be cleaned up. This group of men Slept, ate, breathed and lived in highly contaminated conditions. There were ionizing radiation, plutonium, cesium, agent orange and other contaminates. They were given NO protective gear. Their attire consisted of cut-offs, military issued socks, booney hats, and t-shirts or no shirts at all. When they crossed the so called “hot line”, they were told to strip down and jump in the lagoon. Then they got out and redressed in their contaminated clothes. The waters surrounding the islands were highly infested with sharks and other dangerous ocean critters. They gathered most of the contaminated soil and buildings in which they destroyed and dumped into a crater. (The Cactus Dome). Out of over 8,000 participants that were deployed there from 1977-1980, less than 4% have been found alive. To my knowledge the majority still are fighting for their benefits. That is just the beginning of the mistreatment, neglect, lack of routine medical test such as a colonoscopy. For more than 5 years of severe abdominal pain and he was over the age of 50. A simple routine colonoscopy would have caught the colon cancer before it had metastasized. His illnesses were a direct cause of the ionizing radiation exposure for the 6 months stationed in the Marshall Islands. After 5 years of severe abdominal pain, the VA continually ignored his symptoms and kept prescribing Niacin in which I believe caused his gallbladder to fail. He had to have his gallbladder removed approximately 3 week prior to the diagnosis of late stage cancer. After a brutal mistreatment, neglect and verbal abuse from his first VA doctor. This so called doctor was replaced by an excellent new graduate physician from Harvard. This new doctor immediately sent my husband to a civilian hospital for an emergency colonoscopy. They found that he had LATE STAGE (3c) colorectal cancer in which they removed. However the cancer had metastasized. He underwent 12 rounds of heavy chemo. Radiation treatments were not an option because the cancer had spread to far. To this day he is still fighting for his benefits, He has appealed at least 4 times. He was told to prove he was on the Marshal Islands and he caught his cancer from his mother. There is absolutely no history of colon cancer in any of his relatives. When he requested his military records them came to him and they were all BLANK. They were redacted. The troops that participated in the cleanup mission were supposed to be issued a medal. When my husband requested this metal he was told that he was too late in requesting it. I just do not understand. I could go on and on about how he was treated but I would have to write a book because there are so many wrong doings. He is not the only one that served there who received their records that had been redacted or blank. We are at a loss of what to do. His credit report shows enormous medical bills for collection that should have been paid by the VA system. They charged him for medications, tests, and expensive surgeries.

    • I would like to revise the figures I stated there were over 4000 (?) known participants of the Enewetak Atoll Radiological Cleanup Project. It has been brought to my attention that there were over 8,000 participants. I also stated that there were less than 100 (?) known survivors. Our roster shows 215 known survivors. I am not sure these numbers and figures are accurate but I will give the benefit of the doubt to the current rosters. Out of the active participants I believe these may include weekend warriors, civilians, press, scientists, etc. According to “The Radiological Cleanup of Enewetak Atoll” report, it states in the latter part of 1977 there were only a handful of troops to start the project. In February 1978 is when the project went full bore. Each of the troops were only allowed 6 months, some as little as 2-3 month tours there. I have calls into the Pentagon, DOD, DTRA to gain a more accurate sense of number accountability. I would like to be sure that these figures on our roster are actual Cleanup Members. Not the civilians, or atomic vets etc. Also how many are actual participants that have been verified? Unfortunately there may be moles and trolls. There are only a portion who can prove their participation with pictures, orders, maps and eyewitness statements etc. I apologize if I have given incorrect numbers.

      • You are right about the numbers Beverly Androl. Also, I am sure we have moles and trolls lurking around as well. But no worries, the truth has a tendency to reveal itself over time.

        I took another look at the 8033 listed as participating in the Atomic Cleanup Mission and have determined only 6874 should be a realistic number of participants to find.

        Let’s take a moment to look at significant or realistic numbers. According to Appendix B of the DNA Cleanup History (pdf page 977) 8,033 people participated in the cleanup.

        However, we can assume we will never find 1159 of those who were listed as (e) 597 DOI/TTPI personnel, (g) 49 Journalists, and (h) 513 Others.

        That leaves: (a) Army, (b) Navy, (c) Air Force, (d) DOE and Contractors, and (f) DNA & JTG which totals 6874 we can attempt to find.

        As of 5/13/2015, our roster shows 218 or 3.2% accounted for out of the 6874 listed.

        The breakdown is as follows: (a) Army 147 or 5.5% of the 2670. (b) Navy 37 or 1.7% of the 2207. (c) Air Force 23 or 3.1% of the 740. (d) DOE & Contractors 5 or 0.5% of the 1011. (f) DNA & JTG 2.4% or 6 of the 246 listed.

        Thank you again for all the help you’ve provided. Our prayers go out to you and your family during your struggles with the consequences of the 1977-1980 Enewetak Atoll Atomic Cleanup Mission.

    • I am a runit rat also had same symptoms took my gall bladder scheduled colonoscopy was using non sterile equipment I said no thanks and left it made national news

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