McGovern Successfully Secures Commemorative Service Medal for Atomic Veterans

For Decades, U.S. Veterans Exposed to Dangerous Radiation During Nuclear Weapons Testing Have Never Been Officially Recognized by the Pentagon; McGovern Secured Feasibility Study and Funding for a Medal in 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) announced that he successfully secured the creation of an Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. This medal will honor the service and sacrifice of our nation's Atomic Veterans.

This unique cohort of Veterans participated in hundreds of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests and became known as the Atomic Veterans. They were placed in extremely dangerous areas and were constantly exposed to radiation in performance of their duties. Sworn to secrecy, they could not even speak of their service to their doctors as many saw their health deteriorate. To date, 80% of these Veterans have passed away—yet the Pentagon has never formally honored them with the recognition they deserve. Thanks to McGovern’s advocacy, that’s about to change.

"Atomic Veterans were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in performance of their duties, yet they have never been given the full respect and recognition they deserve," said Congressman McGovern. "Sworn to silence for decades, these courageous and committed patriots paid a high price for their loyalty to our country. They kept their promise to America, and I am proud that they will now be given the acknowledgement they so richly deserve for their faithful service to our nation."

McGovern has led the fight to recognize America’s Atomic Veterans for nearly a decade. After a meeting with Atomic Veteran Joe Mondello in his district in 2014, McGovern filed the Atomic Veterans Service Medal Act with Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina. McGovern later reintroduced the bill with Republican Tom Emmer of Minnesota in 2017. He successfully secured passage through the House of Representatives defense authorization process numerous times, but the service medals were repeatedly blocked in the United States Senate.

His persistence paid off in 2020, when McGovern successfully secured a feasibility report through the National Defense Authorization Act and $4 million for the creation and distribution of the service medal through the appropriations process. He then wrote to President Biden urging him to quickly recognize Atomic Veterans. Soon after, the Department of Defense informed Congress that a commemorative service medal was in the works.

“It has been a long, uphill climb to get this done, and there were moments where I wasn’t sure that it was going to happen. I’m glad that our persistence paid off, grateful to the Biden administration for helping us get this done, and proud that we did this with bipartisan support along the way,” said McGovern.

If an Atomic Veteran has passed away, their next of kin will be entitled to receive the medal.