The men deployed there — including some from Maine — were tasked with cleaning up the atoll, which had been the site of more than 40 nuclear tests, before it could be returned to the people of the Marshall Islands. Many of them are now connecting the cancers and other illnesses they and their army buddies are suffering with their stint cleaning up radioactive material from the atoll.
“We believe the Department of Veterans Affairs should take a closer look at this issue to determine if the veterans’ exposure to radioactive material during this timeframe in the Enewetak Atoll has, in fact, made them more susceptible to certain diseases, including certain cancers that some of these veterans have and continue to suffer from,” U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin said in a joint letter to Robert McDonald, the secretary of the department.
Jeffery Dean of Belfast served on Enewetak Atoll and is helping to lead the charge to have the veterans who were there designated as “Atomic Veterans.” This status allows veterans who have developed one of several specific cancers or nonmalignant conditions to be eligible for compensation or free medical care through the VA. They do not have to prove their cancers were caused by radiation.