In 1998 while working on Capitol Hill I helped my boss, David Skaggs, handle an egregious veteran’s case: that of a man who had dumped atomic waste from a navy ship off the coast of Manhattan in the late 1950's. He and his family had been pursuing a VA claim for 18 years. He had had five out of five kids born with birth defects and died of a radiation-associated cancer. With our office's help, his family finally won their case.
I thought this was a great story. When my husband's career took us overseas, I decided to write a book on it. For four years I conducted research on the USS Calhoun County, a low-ranking navy waste dumping ship. I dug up the deck logs and tracked down the veterans. I interviewed more than a hundred sailors, officers, health physicists, and VA officials.
I uncovered the story of a veteran who came from a brutal family and carried his demons with him into the navy; a contaminated ship that the navy operated for years, with more than 70 sailors living, eating and sleeping aboard; and a true-blue Commanding Officer who was trying to protect his men and the navy from exposure.
I also found a highly disturbing, decades-long effort by the U.S. military to evade and deny radiation claims from veterans and met a torqued and litigious family that would stop at nothing to get its due.