Corporal Mike, a Korean veteran, has lived a difficult life, haunted by poor health and bad memories. He has chronic respiratory problems, skin cancer, and PTSD that has gotten worse over the years. Nightmares persistently interrupt his sleep two or three times a week because of one particular day in 1953, which he remembers as far worse than any face-to-face combat he experienced.
That particular day in 1953 was the day when he and fellow troops were sent to the atomic bomb proving ground at Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, to experience an A-bomb drop followed by a mock attack of the blasted area. He says they were “volunteered” as “human guinea pigs” with no goggles, no respirators, and no protection.
He vividly remembers crouching in the trenches 9,000 yards away from the target area, seeing the intense light, hearing the deafening blast and feeling the shock waves. Then they were ordered to march towards the ominous mushroom cloud.
“We were asked to feel the heat from the dead animals there, and to walk around all the destroyed cars and buildings. Radioactive dust got into our lungs and our eyes. We spent seven hours at Ground Zero,” Mike recalls. “We should have been told about the dangers of atomic bomb testing.”
Fighting in Korea was an Honor; Ground Zero was a Frightening Experience
Corporal Mike is very proud of his service in Korea. He was in the Army’s 2nd infantry division that captured “Heartbreak Ridge” and “Old Baldy” in 1951. He was honored with the Combat Infantryman Badge for excellent performance under enemy fire, the Korean Service Ribbon, the UN Service Ribbon, and the Connecticut Veterans Wartime Service Medal. “Fighting in Korea was an honor which I can proudly speak about,” says Mike. “But being sent to Ground Zero was a frightening death sentence.”
A Veteran’s Struggle for Disability Benefits
Corporal Mike has had a long history of respiratory disease, allergic rhinitis and asthma. High radiation exposure has altered his immune status and has triggered his persistent respiratory problems. He has skin cancer, and his PTSD symptoms have worsened over time.
However, getting appropriately rated for veterans disability benefits has been an uphill battle. Mike’s struggle was further complicated because of a law that made radiation testing classified information. For years it was prohibited for veterans to establish service connection for illnesses brought on by radiation exposure.
This law was repealed in 1996 (Repeal of Nuclear Radiation and Secrecy Agreement Laws), and an all-out search for Atomic Veterans and families who may be eligible for compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been occurring ever since.
Unfortunately, Mike thinks most of the troops he was with who experienced the 1953 Encore test have died. “I’m probably one of the last survivors. I guess I’ve been spared so the real truth can be known.”
Alpha Veterans Disability Steps In
Mike received a low disability rating for his respiratory illnesses and PTSD from the VA in 2009. His benefit wasn’t enough to pay the bills or help him care for his ailing wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2012 that a fellow veteran told Mike about Alpha Veterans Disability Advocates.
“My friend told me to give them a call. That maybe I could get more disability benefits. So I did. My Advocate was great to work with. He wanted to get me total disability based on not being able to work due to my illnesses and PTSD. Because of my age and health condition, my Advocate got my case advanced on the docket.”
In October 2012, Corporal Mike was finally granted what he deserved. He received a total disability rating of 100 percent and over $3,000 a month, enough to pay the bills, keep his home and get some support for his wife.
As this was a new claim, Alpha did not earn a fee. The greater reward was in the successful outcome from a job well done. “We at Alpha were honored to be able to help this veteran to get the benefits he deserves. He waited over 60 years, not only to get the benefits he deserved, but also the recognition for what he went through. We are all very proud to have played a part in this successful outcome.” – Sean Libby, Vice President of Alpha
Although receiving disability benefits does not solve all of Corporal Mike’s problems, the award will help to ease his financial challenges. And the Alpha Veterans Disability team is proud to have been able to help to get him the disability benefits he deserves.