Air Force vet who was part of 1966 nuclear cleanup seeks class action lawsuit

A motion for a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of U.S. airmen who allege they suffer from health issues as a result of cleaning up one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history.

The motion was filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, D.C., by law student interns with Yale's Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin is named as the defendant. The VA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Jan. 17, 1966, an Air Force B-52 bomber collided with a refueling plane, dropping four hydrogen bombs near Palomares, a small farming village on the Spanish coast. Two of the four dropped hydrogen bombs broke open, releasing plutonium over the Spanish countryside.

Victor Skaar, 81, of Nixa, Mo., the plaintiff in the suit, was one of about 1,600 U.S. airmen who participated in the cleanup effort, conducting tests and removing plutonium. The lawsuit alleges that the government failed to provide service members with adequate protection when working at the site, and also didn't test many service members for exposure to harmful radiation or inform many of those tested of their results.

Skaar and many of his fellow Palomares veterans developed radiogenic cancers and other radiogenic disabilities, the lawsuit says.

The VA does not recognize Palomares as a radiation-risk activity, and has been "systemically denying these vets disability benefits for decades," said Jacob Bennett, one of the law student interns representing Skaar.

A separate but related lawsuit, which seeks to compel the Pentagon to release service member records, medical records and environmental records related to the accident, is pending. The Yale clinic is also representing the plaintiffs in that case, and Bennett said that if they are successful in getting those records it will help vets in filing benefits claims.

j.bergman@theday.com

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