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Sat Jan 2, 2021, 10:17 AM

Court Orders Veterans Affairs Department to Replace Flawed Science in Plutonium Disaster Case

In a major class action ruling issued December 17, the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, DC has ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to re-examine how it evaluates disability claims from veterans exposed to deadly alpha radiation during cleanup operations following a disastrous nuclear weapons accident at Palomares, Spain.

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic of Yale Law School, which since 2016 has assisted in litigating the case, Skaar v. Wilkie, along with the New York Legal Assistance Group, announced the decision. The ruling follows oral arguments made September 2, 2020, and comes one year after the Court’s historic decision to certify “class action” status for the veterans of the disaster.

On Jan. 17, 1966, during an airborne refueling gone wrong, an Air Force B-52 bomber exploded over the village of Palomares. Seven crewmembers were killed and four hydrogen bombs were thrown to the Earth. Upon impact, conventional explosives inside two of the H-bombs detonated, blasting two giant craters and spreading as much as 22 pounds highly radioactive, carcinogenic pulverized plutonium across the Spanish village and countryside. (See Dec. 18 report)

In its new decision, the Court said the VA violated federal law requiring that its assessment of veterans’ radiation exposures be based on sound science. The VA has so far relied on faulty methods to deny disability benefits to veterans for radiation-related illnesses caused by the nuclear weapon disaster, the legal services clinic said, calling the decision “a long-awaited step toward recognizing the Palomares veterans’ service and ensuring they have access to the benefits they earned,” it said. Even a single particle of plutonium if inhaled or ingested can cause cancer.


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