Utahns among those fighting to expand benefits for vets who cleaned up ‘atomic trashcan’

Utahns among those fighting to expand benefits for vets who cleaned up ‘atomic trashcan’ (Photo: Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Veterans Facebook page)

(KUTV) – It's nickname is the ‘atomic trashcan’ and it was where thousands of veterans spent months to clean up the radioactive waste.

Now, a group of Utah vets is joining a nationwide fight to expand benefits for those who cleaned up atomic debris in the late 1970’s on Enewetak Atoll in South Pacific.

“We’re trying to get the help they need from the VA because they are not recognizing that we were exposed to radiation," Enewetak vet Robert Bates told 2News. "They were exposed to radiation 24/7"

Bates is part of the Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Veterans Group which is hoping to change the national law to acknowledge the vets who went to the ‘atomic trashcan’ were exposed to radiation.

The U.S used the Enewetak Atoll as the test sights for 43 radioactive bombs after WWII.

H.R. 632, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D- New York) would give the Enewetak Atoll vets status as “radiation-exposed”, which would expand their access to treatments.

"It's like we don't exist, it's easier for us to die off than get taken care of, it's cheaper for the government," Enewetak vet Steven Welch told 2News.

Welch worked on the communication between the south pacific islands and says he wasn’t aware of the dangers he was facing on Enewetak.

"They were out there in the dust, they were wearing it, they were inhaling it and at the end of the day if you got Geiger countered and you were hot you got told to go jump in the lagoon and rinse off,” Welch said.

Utah representatives Chris Stewart, Mia Love, and Rob Bishop are all co-sponsoring the legislation to expand radiation-exposed veteran benefits to the Enewetak survivors. The Enewetak vets told 2News they have not heard back from the offices of senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch about their potential support of H.R. 632.

"I'm proud I served my country, I’d do it all over again, I wish they’d been more upfront about the situation so we could have taken the proper measures,” Bates said.

For more information about the Atomic Cleanup Vets group, you can visit its website. http://www.atomiccleanupvets.com/

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