My name is Frank Vera. I was stationed at George AFB from 1973 to 1974, assigned to the 35th MMS, worked in the Gun Shop, and lived on base on the ground floor of an old WWII barracks. Shortly after being stationed at George AFB my life became a living hell. The last eight months of service I was on placed on light to complete duty restriction, hospitalized five times, almost died three times (the gunshop accident, radiation exposure, I almost bled to death after wisdom tooth extraction), and lost 58 lbs., going from 192 lbs. to 134 lbs., a significant weight loss for someone 6ft 4in. I was discharged 15 months after arriving at George AFB.
In 1974 I was honorably discharged, having seizures and tremors, on crutches, bleeding out of all of my body’s orifices, with constant migraines, could barely walk or talk, with boxes of medication. Because I was honorably discharged instead of being medically retired I spent the about 23 years homeless and hungry until 1997 when Jesse Brown, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs intervened on my behalf and ordered the Los Angeles VARO to award me 70% with TDIU. This is equal to a Service Connected Rating Of 100%. Unfortunately, I had already spent the majority of the previous 23 years homeless and hungry.
I have been diagnosed by the Veterans Administration as having a non-service connected: radiation exposure, radiation myelitis, radiation myocarditis, emphysema osteoporosis that are secondary to my radiation exposure. Additionally, I have spontaneous stress fractures, histiocytosis, Rosai-Dorfman disease, seizures, emphysema, COPD, asthma, chronic pain syndrome (CPS), and depression; enlarged spleen and liver. I have constant headaches and migraines; ulcers, lesions, and polyps in the GI tract. I have had over a dozen polyps removed, 3 lymph node biopsies, and 1 bone marrow biopsy, all benign but abnormal. In 1993, I was told that I had the bone density of an eighty-year-old woman and that the osteoporosis was so severe that it would prove fatal if I did not immediately volunteer for an osteoporosis research project at the local Veterans Administration Hospital. Since then, I have had numerous stress fractures.
My Accidental Radiation Exposure at George AFB in 1973
Over the years, dozens of newspaper articles have been written about my 1973 accidental radiation exposure “with inhalation/ingestion of the hot particles” in the Southeast Disposal Area (SEDA) at George AFB. In my opinion, this newspaper article is the best researched and written.
See: GAFB [Frank Vera] Airman Exposed to Radiation – 1 July 1994
“A number of former airmen have indicated that nuclear weapons were present on the base in the 1960s and 1970s.” … “some radioactive materials had been buried in the Southeast disposal area as well as on the base grounds behind the alert hangar.”
Veterans Administration / Congressional Investigations into my radiation exposure:
- Lymph node biopsy – VA Loma Linda Medical Center
“Benign lymph node with marked sinus histiocytosis”
- Bone marrow biopsy – VA Loma Linda Medical Center
“Mildly hypocellular marrow – Peripheral blood – mild neutropenia and ovalocytosis”
Hypocellular marrow, neutropenia, and ovalocytosis are common side effects of a radiation exposure
Prior to the Bone marrow biopsy my Doctor, Hunt Enacio MD, asked what I exposed to while I was in the AF. A friend saw a newspaper article “Low-level radioactive dump discovered at George AFB “. At my next appointment, I brought the article into my doctor told him about finding and opening the barrel, and getting sick. I asked if this could be the cause of my health problems. He said yes, and had me write a letter describing the barrel, contents, location, and draw a map. He sent a letter asking what I was exposed to and he included my letter and map. Colonel White responded to my doctor stating “that the request was too vague in nature to respond to”. I later found out that Colonel White was the base commander of George AFB.
- VA Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam diagnoses probable radiation myocarditis – VA Bay Pines Medical Center
In 1990 I won the medical side of a Compensation and Pension Exam with diagnoses of probable radiation myocarditis. This was done with the help of the medical staff at VA Bay Pines Medical Center and the research librarians at the Stetson University of Law Gulfport, FL. Unfortunately, I lost the Compensation and Pension case with the Veterans Affairs because the DOD would neither confirm nor deny the presence of the radioactive material at George AFB, CA.
- Congressman George E. Brown request that the Air Force investigate my radiation exposure
“Mr. Vera opted for an honorable discharge versus the medical discharge that was recommended by his superiors when he separated from the military. Mr. Vera’s military records indicated that he was exhibiting the same symptoms that are indicative of exposure to nuclear radiation (radiation myelitis). The fact that it was not diagnosed accurately, while Mr. Vera was in the military, does not prove that he was not suffering from radiation myelitis.”
- OSI / FBI investigation into my possible exposure to an unknown, possible chemical, biological, radiological, and/or nuclear (CBRN) material at the former George Air Force Base, CA. A separate investigation into “potential [environmental] hazards that were known to the Air Force at that time” at George Air Force Base, CA.
See: FOIA request – OSI investigation CBRN – George AFBOn 6 October 2014, the Air Force refused to provide the 1991 AF OSI investigation on the grounds that it was a duplicate FOIA request. It should be noted that the AF did not state that the records do not exist or release a redacted copy of the report.
- Vera referral Oak Ridge DOE – VA Loma Linda Medical Center
“40-year-old w/male w/complicated H/O exposure (Extensive) to possible toxic and weapons-grade isotopes in the 1970’s or 1980’s. Suspect long-lived isotopes. Patient has hematologic dyscrasias and bone abnormalities including osteomalacia or osteoporosis wondering about possible ingestion of long-lived isotopes, possibly radioactive and could include Gamma, Beta or Alpha emitters. Please schedule for total body survey for these types of isotopes.”
This 1994 referral was the result of about 1 year of work by my congressman’s office, several doctors, and myself. The Department of Veterans Affairs Department and the Department of Energy (DOE) had approved a whole body count to be done at the Radiation Dosimetry Laboratory at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TN. The appointment date was being confirmed to get the airplane tickets and lodging. The DOD stopped the radiation assessment.
- William C Capel Vocational Rehabilitation – non-service connected radiation exposure – VA Loma Linda Medical Center
“The veteran has apparently exhausted all means to get the VA to recognize the radiation exposure. Apparently, there is no rating for radiation exposure and the Rating Board is hamstrung from acting. The veteran is urged to write letters to Clinton, Gore, and Jessie Brown with full documentation of the detail of the radiation exposure and ask for assistance. This CP concurred with this action on the veteran’s part as apparently, no other option was available.“
- GAFB Airman [Frank Vera] Exposed to Radiation – newspaper article
- 1996-10-03 Letter from Stewart Liff, Director VA Los Angeles Regional Office to Bob Stump Chairman House Committee on Veterans Affairs – files from the Clinton Library obtained under FOIA
“His non-service connected disabilities are osteoporosis, a condition of the skeletal system, pulmonary emphysema, heart condition [radiation myocarditis see: 1990] and radiation exposure.”
- 1996-10-03 Letter from Stewart Liff Director VARO Los Angeles To Senator Boxer – files from the VARO Los Angeles – “His non-service connected disabilities are osteoporosis, condition of the skeletal system, pulmonary emphysema, heart condition [radiation myocarditis see: 1990] and radiation exposure.”
- Jesse Brown, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs personal interest case -Debi Bevins – Frank Vera – Los Angeles VARO
“This is a Secretary Brown Interest case.” “Personal Interest of the Secretary – Expedite“
- VA Secretary Jesse Brown / President Clinton’s investigation – Frank Vera – files from the Clinton Library obtained under FOIA
In 1997 after an investigation of my medical care and my C&P claim, VA Secretary Jesse Brown ordered the Los Angeles VARO to award me 70% with Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). This is equal to a Service Connected Rating Of 100%. Unfortunately, I had already spent the majority of the previous 23 years homeless and hungry. This investigation centered on injury caused by the accident in the Gun Shop in 1973.
- At the recommendation of VA Secretary Jesse Brown’s staff, the radiation exposure was not addressed this investigation because there is no rating for an accidental radiation exposure. The only radiation exposure that the VA will acknowledge is Veterans that participated in atmospheric and certain underground nuclear tests; Took part in the American occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan; Certain veterans who were POWs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; or Served at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Ky., Portsmouth, Ohio, and area K25 at Oak Ridge, Tenn. (See: VA Programs For Veterans Exposed To Radiation)