A half-million veterans may be eligible to receive an award honoring their service related to atomic weapon use, testing, and cleanup in the decades after World War II.
The Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal will be available to hand out by year’s end, according to a July 5 DoD press release. The creation of the medal was part of the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act; the law allowed DoD to establish eligibility criteria with recommendations from House and Senate Armed Services Committee members.
Veterans eligible for the award must have performed one of the following actions as part of official military duties from July 1, 1945, to Oct. 1, 1992, according to the news release:
- Directly participated in the detonation of an atomic weapon or device.
- Directly participated in the cleanup of radioactive material resulting from any such atmospheric detonation.
- Directly participated in the cleanup of radioactive material resulting from an accident associated with an atomic weapon; or
- Were exposed to ionizing radiation resulting from the operational use of atomic weapons during World War II.
The next-of-kin of deceased veterans who meet the above criteria may apply for the medal, as well. An online application process will be created “in the near future,” per the DoD press release.
It’s unclear how many veterans participated in such operations. Most reports suggest about 225,000 servicemembers took part in atomic testing and development, but when those who worked in cleanup efforts or suffered other exposure are added, the total figure could eclipse 500,000.
The medal’s design, also released July 5, includes an eagle and a symbol of an atom on the obverse, and language on the reverse noting the honor was “awarded for unique service in support of nuclear deterrence.”