LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) – Military service members once sworn to silence now are speaking out demanding their collective voice be heard. Veterans who worked with highly classified nuclear weapons during the Cold War say they were exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals which decades later have resulted in deadly illnesses. They say the government still has not acknowledged the connection, that their service made them sick.
FOX5 went to the home of one veteran in Henderson leading the charge for change. He spoke to our Kim Passoth on the Sound of Silence Project.
“I literally was working live nukes when I was 17…four months before I turned 18,” recalled Rick Workman. In 1973, Workman was serving overseas before his 18th birthday.
“Basically, I dropped out of high school because a friend asked me to join the Air Force with him…two weeks later I was at Lackland Air Force Base Texas in basic training with a guaranteed job as a Nuclear Weapons Technician,” Workman recounted. After tours in Korea and the Philippines, Workman worked with weapons internationally and in Nevada.
“I was a Nuclear Weapons Technical Inspector for the Department of Defense…so we inspected all military units in the world from the United States who had a nuclear capability,” Workman revealed. Workman spent 18 years inspecting nuclear weapons.
“We had our heads, arms, hands, face inside a weapon. What we didn’t know is that we were actually radiated every second we were near the weapon…we used so many carcinogenic toxic chemicals,” Workman shared. Workman contends that’s had deadly consequences for many.
“After I retired, I started hearing about so many of the people that I knew or knew of that seemed to get some sort of cancer or other terrible disease and when they got it, it’s like they didn’t last very long,” Workman stated.
A Navy Nuclear Weapons Association cancer survey in 2020 had 40 responses, 61 cancers were reported and 19, (just shy of half), had prostate cancer. A 2023 survey of Air Force Weapons Technicians Association members found of eight respondents; nine cancers were reported.
“I started looking at VA claims. It couldn’t be a coincidence. All these deaths, all these sicknesses,” Workman asserted. Workman remains healthy for now but says many Nuclear Tech Vets who are ill are afraid to come forward and report it. The code of silence, a promise of secrecy to the US government, for many vets is one that will forever remain unbroken.
“Because of the secrecy, a lot of those folks would not go to the VA. Quite frankly I had a friend who died in June, we buried him here in the Valley. He was my boss when I was 17 years old in Korea…he went to the grave without telling his family what he did for a living. His son learned about father’s work after his death through Sound of Silence Project documentation.”
Through the Sound of Silence Project, Nuclear Technician Veterans are talking.
“We consider ourselves an unknown group of veterans…we are not recognized as even having had exposure to radiation…frankly it pissed me off…they knew what the exposures were,” Workman argued.
Now vets want the government to pass a law requiring the VA recognize and treat illnesses resulting from exposure: the Cold War Period Veterans Nuclear Technicians Act.
“People have lost their appeals, they have lost their claims, they have lost their life in many cases because VA has denied very reasonable claims,” Workman declared.
FOX5 asked the VA about the care of Cold War Nuclear Weapons Technicians who say they were exposed to toxic levels of radiation. They sent this statement:
VA strives to ensure that all eligible Veterans have access to the care that they need, and we encourage all Veterans Nuclear Weapons Technicians to come to VA for their care, including for conditions that may have stemmed from their service. While disability compensation is available for service-connected conditions, this is not a requirement for receiving care at VA and we encourage Veterans to come to VA to learn about what care they are eligible to receive.
VA is committed to providing all radiation-exposed Veterans with the benefits they deserve, and we continue to study the conditions that may be caused by radiation exposure during military service. Whenever a Veteran applies for benefits, we’re always trying to get to yes. That means using every tool in our power to help them demonstrate that their condition is connected to their service – and then provide them with earned benefits accordingly.
Currently, in order to receive disability compensation for conditions related to all types of ionizing radiation exposure during service, the evidence must show:
1) the Veteran is diagnosed with a radiogenic disease or the Veteran has submitted competent scientific or medical evidence that a non-radiogenic disease is caused by ionizing radiation; and,
2) the service department confirms the Veteran was exposed to ionizing radiation and provides a dose estimate; and,
3) VA obtained a favorable medical opinion regarding the relationship of the disease to the in-service radiation exposure, which includes assessment of dose estimate.
Even in cases where a Veteran’s radiation-related claim is not granted, they also may be eligible for disability compensation benefits for other health conditions, including for the more than 300 conditions made presumptive by the PACT Act. We at VA encourage all eligible Veterans to learn more and apply for health care or file their disability compensation claims today.
For more information, visit our website Ionizing Radiation Exposure | Veterans Affairs (va.gov).
Workman argues it should be a blanket policy, a presumed occupational injury when servicemembers exposed to radiation are diagnosed with certain cancers and illnesses.
“Recognize us as a radiation exposed veteran… veterans are dying… they are going to take it to the grave. That is pretty sad,” Workman professed.
The Sound of Silence Project wants people to reach out to their congressional representatives to help get the bill passed. Learn more here: The Sound of Silence Project
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