For up to 15 years after World War II, the crew of George Albernaz’s ship, the USS Calhoun County, dumped thousands of tons of radioactive waste into the Atlantic Ocean.
This was often done without heeding the simplest health precautions, according to newly released Navy documents and interviews with more than 50 former crewmen.
Albernaz began a battle for his own life in 1988 when part of his brain began to die, mystifying doctors who eventually concluded the rare ailment might be linked to radiation.
He filed a VA claim for benefits in 2001 that was repeatedly rejected, often with tortured government reasoning.
The VA and Navy told Albernaz he was not exposed to radiation on the Calhoun County, a vessel the Navy ordered sunk in 1963 because it was radioactive.
The VA ignored Navy documents discovered by a former congressional aide proving the ship’s radioactivity, telling Albernaz they were “unsubstantiated.”
And the Navy today points to Cold War records that are incomplete and unreliable as proof crewmen were not exposed to dangerous radiation.
The Navy and VA’s insistence that atomic waste on the Calhoun County was not dangerous comes 15 years after the VA linked the death of a crewman who served with Albernaz to radiation.
Adequate health safeguards were followed and the crew was not exposed to dangerous radiation, Navy spokesman Kenneth Hess said.
“The Navy did not scuttle the ship because of radioactivity,” he said, “but because it was at the end of its useful life.”
Up to 1,000 men served on the Calhoun County in the years it dumped radioactive waste, a practice that continued until about 1960 — two years before the ship’s decommissioning.
It’s impossible to know how many suffered unusual health problems after they left the ship.
The VA and Navy never followed up on their health.
Some got sick and never filed VA claims.
And after more than a half-century, much of the crew has died.
Albernaz died in 2009 of heart failure after his health was ruined by radiation, his wife says.
He was 75.
“George believed his own government thought he was lying, like it was all a figment of his imagination,” said his widow, Bernice Albernaz, 69, who continues the fight with the VA that her husband began 12 years ago.
She said her husband didn’t lie.
Sea monsters really did troll the depths of the ocean.
They remain there still.