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Lawsuit over H-bombs snafu

Veterans who say they responded to a 1966 accident involving U.S. hydrogen bombs in Spain and then became ill from radiation exposure asked a federal appeals court on Monday to allow a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Yale Law School students in Connecticut filed the request with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims on behalf of veterans who sought disability benefits from the VA but were denied. The students represent Air Force veteran Victor Skaar, of Nixa, Missouri, and want to include other veterans who believe they deserve VA benefits.

The motion names Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin as the defendant. The VA said Monday it hadn't seen the filing and couldn't address it.

On Jan. 17, 1966, a U.S. B-52 bomber and a refuelling plane crashed into each other during a refuelling operation near the southern Spanish village of Palomares, killing seven of 11 crew members but no one on the ground. At the time, the U.S. was keeping nuclear-armed warplanes in the air near the Soviet border as the Cold War was in full swing.

The midair collision resulted in the release of four U.S. hydrogen bombs. None of the bombs exploded, but the plutonium-filled detonators on two went off, scattering 7 pounds (3 kilograms) of highly radioactive plutonium 239 across the landscape.

The 1,600 servicemen who were sent to the crash site area to recover the weapons and clean up the contamination were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation daily for weeks or months at a time, according to the court motion filed Monday. Many of the servicemen later developed various forms of cancer, blood disorders, heart and lung dysfunction and other sicknesses but were denied disability benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"This class action seeks to compel the VA to acknowledge that veterans at Palomares participated in a radiation-risk activity that would make any radiogenic conditions they developed presumptively service-connected," said Derek Mraz, one of the Yale students working on the case. "The VA acknowledges this service connection for many other atomic veterans."



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