Radiation Exposure Disability Claims
Many veterans throughout history have been exposed to radiation. From the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the U.S. atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in Nevada, veterans and their families harbor the concern that their illnesses are caused by exposure to ionizing radiation (IR).
They’re not the only ones. Other veterans may have been exposed to radiation as well. These include nuclear submariners, veterans of the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom who were exposed to radiation in many different forms. Some experienced nuclear fallout — a residual radiation hazard from a nuclear explosion — while others worked with radioactive materials. These veterans often feel that radiation has caused their illnesses — especially cancer.
Presumptive Conditions for Ionizing Radiation (IR)
For veterans who participated in a radiation-risk activity during service, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assumes that certain cancers are caused by their radiation exposure. We call these “presumptive diseases” or “presumptive conditions”. If you performed a documented “radiation-risk activity” on active duty, the VA will grant you disability benefits for the following conditions:
- Bile duct cancer
- Bone cancer
- Brain cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Gall bladder cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pancreas cancer
- Pharynx cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Salivary gland cancer
- Small intestine cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Urinary tract cancer
- Leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
- Lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease)
- Multiple myeloma (cancer of plasma cells)
Radiation Risk Activities
Veterans who participated in radiation-risk activities and got seriously ill don’t have to provide additional evidence to be eligible for disability compensation. Survivors may also be eligible for survivors’ benefits if the veteran dies as the result of a presumptive disease.
The following is a partial list of documented events in U.S. military history that exposed service members to dangerous levels of radiation.
- Radiological cleanup of Enewetak Atoll (1977- 1980).
- U.S. Air Force plutonium cleanup mission near Palomares, Spain (1966).
- U.S. Air Force plutonium cleanup mission at Thule, Greenland (1968).
- Participated in the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan between Aug. 6, 1945, and July 1, 1946.
- Were prisoners of war in Japan near Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
- Participated in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted primarily in Nevada and the Pacific Ocean between 1945 and 1962.
- Participated in underground nuclear weapons testing at:
- Amchitka Island, Alaska before Jan. 1, 1974.
- Nevada Test Site for at least 250 days from January 1, 1963, through December 31, 1992.
- Service at one of the following gaseous diffusion plants for at least 250 days before Feb. 1, 1992: Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; or K25 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
For a full list of radiation-risk activities, including depleted uranium exposure during the Gulf Wars and fallout from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, see the VA’s comprehensive page on Exposure to Radiation.
PACT ACT Expands Eligibility for Veterans Exposed to Radiation
The Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 made it possible for more veterans to get benefits for illnesses caused by radiation exposure. They added participation in the following three additional radiation-risk activities as a factor in determining benefits eligibility. They are:
- Enewetak Atoll cleanup between January 1, 1977 and December 31, 1980.
- Palomares, Spain, response effort between January 17, 1966 and March 31, 1967.
- Thule, Greenland, response effort between Januaryt 21, 1968 and September 25, 1968
Learn more about the disability benefits unlocked by the PACT Act here.
Other Diseases Associated with Radiation Exposure
The VA recognizes that the following diseases are possibly caused by exposure to ionizing radiation during service:
- Non-malignant thyroid nodular disease
- Parathyroid adenoma
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts
- Tumors of the brain and central nervous system
The VA also will consider the possibility that other diseases not listed above were caused by radiation, if supported by medical or scientific evidence. For example, a Lancet study on the long-term effects of radiation exposure suggets that radiation might increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and some other non-cancer diseases.
You will need to provide additional evidence to support a disability claim for these illnesses. The VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis.
Toxic Exposure Screenings
Thanks to the PACT Act, the VA is now required to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care. The screening will check for the signs of radiation exposure, burn pit exposure, Agent Orange exposure, Camp Lejeune water contamination, Gulf War-related exposures and more.
You can request a toxic exposure screening at your next VA health care appointment. If you don’t have an upcoming appointment, or if you want to get the screening sooner, contact your local VA health facility.
Get Professional Help With Your Radiation Exposure Claim
Here at the Rep For Vets, our VA-accredited claims agents fight to get veterans the benefits they earned when they signed up to serve. If your claim has been denied or your rating is too low, call (888) 573-7838 for a free evaluation. You can also fill out a quick contact form letting us know about your situation. No matter where you are — from Alaska to New York to Florida — our claims agents can help.