The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Thursday, January 11, 2001
Paducah, Kentucky

VA pushes ‘atomic veterans’ benefits

By Bill Bartleman
Were military troops ever assigned to guard or work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant?

No one in Washington is certain, but if they were, the Veterans Administration wants them to be eligible for special benefits given to veterans who worked in radiation-risk activities.

The VA recently issued a news release calling for additional aid for "atomic veterans." Most of the news release dealt with making it easier for veterans to obtain benefits if they have cancer and were assigned to jobs in which they were exposed to radiation.

The release also said that "The proposed changes would also expand the definition of 'radiation-risk activity' to include exposure to radiation related to ... service at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Ky., Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn."

The release implied that at some point, military troops were assigned to the Paducah plant, something that has never been rumored or made public.

VA officials in Washington at first said they were proposing expansion of the benefits so that military assigned to work in Paducah would receive the same benefits that are now being offered to civilian workers at the plant.

Asked to explain what work the military performed at the plant, the VA spokeswoman referred questions to the Department of Defense.

A press spokeswoman in DOD said it would be difficult to determine if troops were assigned to the plant for special details 20 to 50 years ago. However, she said that there was no record of troops currently being assigned to the plant, and referred questions back to the Veterans Administration.

VA spokesman Phil Budahan repeated the comment made earlier: military personnel assigned to Paducah was being added "because of simple fairness. We want to make sure that wherever we had military personnel serving alongside of civilians and facing the same risks, that they would be entitled to the same benefits."

However, he said he wasn't aware if any military personnel were ever assigned to the plant. Budahan said it was being added "just as a precaution" in case it is learned later that someone was assigned to Paducah. "We want to err on the side of veterans," he said.

Steve Wyatt, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy, said he wasn't aware of any military ever being assigned to Paducah.