Atomic Vets Left In The Cold

From the late 1940s to the early '60s, people from all branches of the U.S. military were intentionally exposed to atomic explosions to test their effects on human beings. Many of them later developed horrific diseases, and in some cases, the military denies the explosions caused these illnesses.

All of this provides the basis for a study to be released Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences. One of the people at the infamous Bikini Islands test in 1946 was Oscar Rosen, president of the Atomic Veterans Research Institute in Salem, Mass. He spoke with CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell.

Rosen says he's wary of the new report because the government's official response has always been "a denial that the veterans were exposed to harmful amounts of radiation, so we're not expecting anything different this time."

Since the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 ended the atomic tests, there has been no government- sponsored medical surveillance of test participants, nor any effort to locate these individuals to warn them of potential health risks.

He compares the government's treatment of atomic veterans to the way "the Pentagon has been denying that the Gulf War Syndrome was caused in part by the use of depleted uranium, and most recently the possibility that it was caused by some drug given to prevent the effects of nerve gas."

Rosen attributes his own health problems, including cataracts and sterility, to the radiation exposure. "I've had other health problems but somehow managed to survive to the age of 77 because of excellent health care and so on and my determination to keep going."

But Rosen says he knows "of a number of veterans who died of various lung diseases, and the Veterans Administration waits until the veteran is very old and almost dying before they approve their claims for compensation. It's a very, very, very sad situation."

Rosen says he'd like the American public to remember "that over 200,000 veterans were exposed to radiation without being told they were being placed in harm's way Â… once the veterans were out of the service, they were simply regarded as discards, not needed anymore. And many of the veterans feel that the government is just waiting for all of them to die."