The Cold War generally refers to the period of tension between the U.S., its allies and the Soviet bloc from the end of World War II in 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) in the 1990s. A major fear of the Cold War was nuclear war with associated health concerns about exposure to ionizing radiation.
The Cold War never resulted in direct military conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, but was marked by economic competition, a nuclear arms race, military tension, and proxy wars.
“From behind the Iron Curtain, there are signs that tyranny is in trouble and reminders that its structure is as brittle as its surface is hard.”General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Unique Health Risks
Exposure to nuclear weapons
The United States feared that tensions with the Soviet Union and its satellite states could potentially result in a nuclear war. The United States performed nuclear arms tests to ensure that if such a war did occur, they would have effective weapons. Because of these tests, the main health risk linked to the Cold War is nuclear exposure due to nuclear weapons testing. Veterans from this conflict are often referred to as “atomic vets” because of their exposure to atomic weapons and radiation.
Approximately 200,000 US service personnel performed occupation duties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the atomic bombing of Japan and a similar number of service members participated in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests from 1945 to 1962. Exposure to radiation has been associated with a number of disorders including leukemia, various cancers, and cataracts.
Veterans may be eligible for disability compensation and health care benefits for any disease that VA recognizes as associated with military service or exposure to radiation during military service. “Atomic vets” are eligible to participate in the VA’s Ionizing Radiation Program. This includes the opportunity to have an Ionizing Radiation Registry Examination performed and special eligibility for treatment of conditions that the VA recognizes as potentially radiogenic by statute or regulation whether or not they have had a radiation compensation claim approved.