Nuclear Navy Submariners and Blood Cancers

wyliechattin Member Posts: 2 Member
edited February 6 in Military Cancer Survivors #1

My father served in the nuclear Navy from 1968-1974.

During those years of enlistment, he was exposed to ionizing radiation daily during the years of 1970 – 1974. He received these exposures as a Machinist Mate 2nd Class (Nuclear) and job responsibilities at Naval Nuclear Protype S1C, Winsor Locks, Connecticut, which is a land-based prototype designator training facility. 

Further, he received additional radiation exposure while performing his job functions in the engineering department on board duty the USS Permit, SSN-594. This includes Nuclear Reactor Systems maintenance performing primary radiochemistry analysis and radiation monitoring of onboard spaces and nuclear weapons. His job assignments on board SSN-594 also included extensive overhaul and refueling of onboard nuclear reactor systems at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The types of ionizing radiation he was exposed to were alpha, beta, gamma and neutron

He’s fighting his own battle with a a form of blood cancer (MDS) and recovering from a stem cell transplant. Myelodysplastic syndrome with excess blasts (MDS EB-1), a group of blood disorders in which a person's bone marrow does not produce enough functioning blood cells. If the diseases progresses, it will turn into Acute Leukemia, which the VA recognizes as a presumptive disease due to ionizing radiation exposure, which at that point he won’t have long.

GVHF (graft versus host disease) is an ongoing battle after a stem cell transplant. The VA has denied his claim for a service-related disability but is assisting with his medical care. I’m trying to help my parents find an attorney to represent their appeal. They have so much to worry about with my father’s daily care. Any support or evidence he isn’t the only one out there who has served and is suffering from a form of blood cancer, is appreciated.

Are there other nuclear submariners with similar health issues?


  • Tico14
    Tico14 Member Posts: 26 Member

    You might want to explore your father's exposure to asbestos as a causative agent for your father's illnesses as well. His rating exposed him to asbestos more than sailors with other ratings and it could be the cause of some of his ailments. In my case, surface, blue-water navy, also a Machinist's Mate (but non-nuclear) the VA recognized asbestos as a contributor to my prostate cancer for which they not only take care (sub-standard in my opinion) of me but supply any medications I require at no cost to me.

  • wyliechattin
    wyliechattin Member Posts: 2 Member

    Thank you Tico14! Greatly appreciate your guidance. Were you able to get a disability rating as a service-connected disability as a result too? I hope you are in remission and recovering as well.

  • Tico14
    Tico14 Member Posts: 26 Member

    Yes I have a disability rating as the result of residuals related to the prostate cancer. I understand where you are re seeking counsel to address the VA's response to your father's condition, but suggest you seek out a local VSO (Veteran's Service Officer) first. He or she will help you file a claim for your father and they really know what they're doing and aren't in it for the money - like attorneys. Good luck.

  • MacManB
    MacManB Member Posts: 1 Member

    I’m just starting my journey. This week I was diagnosed with MDS and am to see the bone marrow specialist next week to confirm diagnosis, further testing, and to evaluate for transplant. I served aboard a submarine for five years in the early 80’s on the USS CASIMIR PULASKI (SSBN633), a ballistic missile sub. I was a Yeoman so didn’t spend a lot of time in the engineering spaces after qualifying, but stood topside watch both fore and aft while in Newport News Shipbuilding during an almost three-year refueling overhaul and so was exposed to ionizing radiation and associated hazardous chemicals one would find in those environments. I wish you all well and appreciate you sharing your experience here and advice. All the best.

  • DocNan
    DocNan Member Posts: 1 *

    Hello, my late husband served on the USS Nathan Hale as a machinist mate to the nuclear engine from 1973 untill about 1976. in the summer of 2017 he was diagnosed initially with MDS and later with the complication of MPN. By fall 2017, when he was not responding the usual chemotherapy, he was evaluated at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and given the diagnosis of CMML. This is WHO's newest designation for this disease. He began induction chemo for a stem cell transplant the last week of March in 2018 but died before the stem cell transplant could begin as the disease had spread to his spinal fluid. I have long suspected that this disease happened for him as a result of exposure to ionizing radiation in the Navy during those years.There is one complicating factor, however. He also did herbicide research as a USDA weed scientist. And was no doubt exposed to some extent to various herbicides that have been allegedly connected to leukemia victims. And because the scientific evidence, for the latter is weak, I am more convinced that his disease was caused from his Navy service. Nothing to be done now for him as he died and I would not be eligible for survivor benefits. But what bothers me more than anything else is that I have two young relatives who have in recent years volunteered for submariner service without a clear understanding of the long-term risks involved. What obligation does the Navy have to inform these young submariner volunteers of the lifetime risks? And does the Navy provide full disclosure about these risks to sailors serving on such ships? I am a PhD social scientist and I have read a lot of research about this. My husband was a very proud veteran and did not want to believe that the Navy would expose him in this regard. He was always told that his dosimeter readings were well within limits.We know now, of course, that no amount of ionizing radiation is safe, but based on the research I've read, I suspect the Navy knew in the 1970s that there could be long-term consequences for this exposure. I am a veteran myself and it saddens me that our country treats enlistees this way. All submariner service is voluntary and therefore I believe they should be given the fullest explanations of lifetime risks. Unfortunately my husband's disease was not diagnosed early due to lapses in medical judgment of some of his providers. If he could've had the stem cell transplant before he became so ill, he might still be alive today.