Monday, March 9, 2020

Plutonium pickup is basis of lawsuit against govt.

Federal agency fighting class-action suit about cancer stemming from 1966 nuclear disaster cleanup

Cash settlements, even in cases of class-action suits, may be too little, too late.

Patients die.

Witness a lawsuit filed by Victor Skaar, a veteran, alleging "that he and hundreds of other vets were exposed to radiation in the service (in Palomares, Spain), which the Air Force has denied for decades." 

The suit's aim is to get the U.S. government to pay for the victims' medical care.

Victor Skaar, recently
According to a recent story by Dave Phillips in The New York Times, Skaar, an 83-year-old retired chief master sergeant, "was one of 1,600 troops scrambled by the Air Force in 1966 to clean up a classified nuclear disaster by collecting debris and shoveling up plutonium-laced soil."

In January of that year, an American B-52 bomber on a Cold War patrol exploded during a midair refueling accident that sent four hydrogen bombs hurtling toward the ground. Though they didn't detonate, because they weren't armed, "conventional explosives in two of the bombs blew up on impact, scattering pulverized plutonium over a patchwork of farm fields and stucco houses."

When many contracted cancer and other ailments later, the federal government denied responsibility and refused to pay for their medical care — not unlike what happened with Agent Orange in the Vietnam War era.

Skaar's class-action suit was filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Upon being discharged in 1982, Skaar had found his white blood cell count "way off," Phillips' story says. He's been fighting ever since.

For decades.

"First," the plaintiff notes, they told me there were no records, which I knew was a lie because I helped to make them."

Officials admitted he'd been exposed but claimed "the levels were so low it didn't matter."

During the cleanup, in fact, he had jotted on a hand-drawn map where there had been high-radiation readings.

Victor Skaar in 1962
Through a Freedom of Information Act request in 1992, he'd obtained a list of 26 airmen — including himself — who'd tested high.

His suit was aided by a veterans' services clinic run by students at Yale Law School.

"The bunk science the Air Force was using was not just harming Mr. Skaar, but all the other Palomares veterans," Phillips quoted Meghan Brooks, a clinic member who has since graduated. "Mr. Skaar really wanted to fight on behalf of others."

The Times quotes Skaar as saying, "I want to go to my grave knowing I've done the best I could."

More information on lawsuits about cancer can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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