Hidden Dangers: The Secret Sickness of Veterans at Area 52

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For decades, a veil of secrecy has shrouded the lives of veterans stationed at a classified military base in the Nevada desert, known to some as Area 52. Despite their crucial contributions to national security, these veterans now grapple with severe health issues, seemingly abandoned by the very government they served. This investigative piece delves into the grim reality faced by these servicemembers, their unacknowledged suffering, and the bureaucratic obstacles preventing them from receiving the support they deserve.

Inside Area 52’s Secret Military Base: Where ‘Bombs, Nukes, and Poison’ are Tested in the Nevada Desert

AREA 52, the highly classified US Air Force base, has long harbored dark secrets, overshadowed by its more famous sister facility, Area 51. While Area 51 has been the epicenter of alien conspiracies and UFO enthusiasts, Area 52, officially known as the Tonopah Test Range (TTR), holds a more sinister legacy of nuclear tests, secret military programs, and environmental contamination. Located in Tonopah, Nevada, about 70 miles northwest of Area 51, the 525-square-mile facility has been a hub for top-secret activities since its inception in 1957.

A Legacy of Secrecy and Testing

The Tonopah Test Range was established as a testing site for the United States Department of Energy’s weapons programs. Over the past six decades, it has been the site of missile tests, bomb drops, and the piloting of state-of-the-art aircraft. Between 1977 and 1988, TTR hosted the Constant Peg program, a classified combat training initiative where US aircrews flew against Russian Mikoyan MiG aircraft. This program remained secret until 2006, despite thousands of missions being flown over its 11-year duration.

Another significant program tested at TTR was the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, a twin-engine stealth attack aircraft. From 1982 to 1989, while the F-117 program was still classified, it was secretly tested at the site. Details about subsequent aircraft tested at TTR after 1992 remain sparse, adding to the base’s mystique and ongoing operational status.

Modern Upgrades and Capabilities

Area 52 continues to be an active facility. In recent years, it has received significant upgrades to support the US’s nuclear arsenal modernization initiatives and other classified programs. The base features a large airfield with a 12,000-foot runway and numerous hangars. The facility also includes 50 twin-level dormitories capable of housing thousands of workers, who are flown in and escorted via government vehicles from a private terminal.

According to its official website, TTR is equipped with an array of signal-tracking equipment, including high-speed cameras, radar-tracking devices, and video recording systems. This equipment is used to analyze ballistics, aerodynamics, and parachute performance for various artillery shells, bomb drops, missiles, and rockets.

Radioactive Contamination

Decades of weapons testing have left a significant mark on the environment at TTR. The Department of Energy has been working to decontaminate the site through the Soils-Sub Project, which aims to assess and mitigate soil contamination levels resulting from nuclear tests, notably the 1963 Operation Roller Coaster. This joint US-UK operation tested the distribution of radioactive particles from a “dirty bomb,” significantly contaminating the area.

Much of TTR remains off-limits due to ongoing contamination. The 1975 federal environmental assessment acknowledged the presence of toxic radioactive dust, yet concluded that the benefits of continued testing outweighed the environmental and health costs. This assessment has been a source of controversy and a key point in the struggle for recognition and compensation for affected workers.

Hundreds of veterans who served at TTR report severe health issues, ranging from respiratory problems to cancers. Mark Ely, a former Air Force technician, recalls his time inspecting Soviet fighter jets in the 1980s at the base. Now 63, Ely suffers from lung scarring, liver cysts, lipomas, and other serious conditions he attributes to radiation exposure at TTR. Despite the documented risks, veterans like Ely struggle to receive health benefits due to the classified nature of their work and the absence of their service records.

Dave Crete, another veteran, has chronic bronchitis and had a tumor removed from his back. He has connected with hundreds of other veterans, uncovering a disturbing pattern of health problems among those who served at Area 52. The Department of Defense confirms their service but remains silent on their specific assignments, creating a bureaucratic barrier to obtaining health benefits.

Conspiracies and Urban Legends

The secretive nature of Area 52 has fueled numerous conspiracies and urban legends. Retired CIA pilot John Lear claimed in a 2007 interview that a nuclear device was used to create a massive underground chamber capable of housing 25,000 people. He also alleged the existence of a high-speed underground train linking Area 52 to Las Vegas and secret runways that could appear and disappear.

Local residents and workers have shared their own tales, often shrouded in mystery. Jose Ramirez, a Tonopah resident, recounted stories of aircraft designed to go into space and land for NASA. Despite having family members employed at TTR, he chose not to inquire about their work, respecting the base’s culture of secrecy.

The Fight for Recognition and Justice

The struggle for recognition and justice for Area 52 veterans is ongoing. Advocacy groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion are pushing for legislative changes to extend benefits to all affected veterans. Legal battles continue as veterans seek acknowledgment of their service and compensation for their health issues.

Media coverage has been instrumental in bringing these issues to light. Investigative reports by CBS News and other outlets have highlighted the health crisis and the government’s failure to address it, increasing public awareness and pressure on lawmakers.

Environmental and Health Data

The environmental contamination at TTR is extensive. A study by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP) found elevated levels of radioactive isotopes, including cesium-137 and strontium-90, in the soil and water samples around TTR. These isotopes are known to cause various cancers and other serious health conditions.

A 2019 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimated that over 2,000 workers at TTR were exposed to hazardous materials, with long-term health effects still being studied. The report called for comprehensive health monitoring and compensation for affected workers.

The Department of Energy’s Soils-Sub Project has made some progress in decontaminating the site, but challenges remain. The project has removed over 1,500 tons of contaminated soil, yet large areas of TTR are still deemed hazardous. Efforts to clean up the site are ongoing, with plans to complete decontamination by 2030.

Area 52, or the Tonopah Test Range, remains a symbol of the sacrifices made in the name of national security. The health and environmental impacts of decades of testing are a stark reminder of the human cost of secrecy. As efforts continue to decontaminate the site and secure recognition and compensation for affected veterans, the legacy of Area 52 serves as a cautionary tale about the hidden dangers of military and governmental operations.

Image : Area 52 – copyright debuglies.com – Coordinates: 37°47’45″N 116°46’05″W

The Classified Mission

In the mid-1980s, Air Force technician Mark Ely was tasked with inspecting secretly obtained Soviet fighter jets at the Tonopah Test Range, a highly classified site located 140 miles outside Las Vegas. Known informally as Area 52, this base was so secretive that personnel like Ely had to sign non-disclosure agreements. These agreements, designed to protect national security, have ironically become the barrier to accessing vital health benefits for veterans.

Ely, now 63, recalls his early days at the base. “Upholding the national interest was more important than my own life,” he told CBS News. At that time, he was in his 20s, physically fit, and unaware of the silent threat that lurked in his work environment. The classified mission, involving inspections in hidden hangars known as “hush houses,” exposed him to toxic radioactive material scattered by decades of nearby nuclear bomb tests.

The Hidden Health Crisis

Today, Ely’s body bears the scars of that exposure. He suffers from severe lung scarring, cysts on his liver, lipomas (fatty tumors), and bladder lining issues. His health has deteriorated significantly, a stark contrast to his once robust physique. Ely’s situation is not unique. Many veterans who served at Area 52 report similar ailments, including chronic bronchitis, various cancers, and other respiratory issues.

Another veteran, Dave Crete, served as a military police officer at the site. He now battles chronic bronchitis and has undergone surgery to remove a tumor from his back. Over the past eight years, Crete has connected with hundreds of other veterans from Area 52, uncovering a disturbing pattern of serious health problems among his peers.

The root cause of these ailments can be traced back to the environmental hazards documented in a 1975 federal report. This assessment acknowledged that toxic radioactive dust from nuclear tests posed a significant risk to those stationed nearby. Despite this, the report concluded that the benefits of continuing operations at the Range outweighed the environmental and health costs.

Government Response and Denial

The U.S. government has allocated $25.7 billion in health benefits to employees of the Department of Energy and other federal agencies who were stationed in the area. However, this support does not extend to military veterans like Ely and Crete. Their service records, sanitized of any mention of their time at Area 52, leave them without the necessary proof to claim these benefits.

This bureaucratic oversight has left veterans feeling betrayed. “It makes me incredibly mad and it hurts me too because they’re supposed to have my back,” said Ely. “I had theirs and I want them to have mine.” The Department of Defense has confirmed the service of these veterans but remains tight-lipped about their specific assignments, perpetuating their inability to receive assistance.

The Broader Implications

The plight of Area 52 veterans highlights a broader issue within military and governmental operations. The prioritization of national security and secrecy over individual well-being has resulted in significant human costs. These veterans, who sacrificed their health for their country, now face a system that refuses to acknowledge their suffering.

The 1975 report’s conclusion that discontinuing work at the Range would be “against the national interest” reflects a cold calculus that disregards the long-term health implications for those involved. The economic benefits to the Tonopah area and the strategic advantages of continued testing were deemed more valuable than the safety of the personnel.

Personal Stories of Suffering

Mark Ely’s story is one of many. His health issues began with minor symptoms that escalated over time. Initially, he experienced difficulty breathing, which he attributed to the desert climate. However, as his condition worsened, it became clear that the environmental exposure at Area 52 was the culprit. The cysts on his liver, the lipomas, and the shedding of his bladder lining were all stark reminders of his time at the base.

For Dave Crete, the journey has been equally harrowing. His breathing problems and the tumor on his back are constant reminders of his service. Crete’s efforts to connect with other veterans have revealed a disturbing trend of cancer and respiratory diseases, painting a grim picture of the health crisis among Area 52 veterans.

One veteran, who wished to remain anonymous, recounted his battle with leukemia, which doctors believe was caused by radiation exposure. Despite undergoing aggressive treatment, his condition remains precarious. Another veteran developed a rare form of lung cancer, which he attributes to inhaling radioactive dust during his time at the base.

Legal and Advocacy Efforts

Efforts to secure recognition and benefits for these veterans have been met with significant challenges. Legal battles have been waged, with mixed results. Advocacy groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion, have taken up the cause, pushing for legislative changes to ensure these veterans receive the support they need.

Despite these efforts, progress has been slow. The secrecy surrounding Area 52 complicates the legal landscape, as many documents remain classified, and the non-disclosure agreements signed by veterans further hinder their ability to speak out. The lack of transparency has created a nearly insurmountable barrier for those seeking justice.

The Role of the Media

Media coverage has played a crucial role in bringing the plight of these veterans to light. Investigative reports by CBS News and other outlets have exposed the extent of the health crisis and the government’s failure to address it. These stories have sparked public outrage and increased pressure on lawmakers to act.

Journalists have faced their own challenges in uncovering the truth. Access to information is limited, and many sources are reluctant to speak on the record due to fear of retribution. Despite these obstacles, continued media scrutiny has kept the issue in the public eye, providing a glimmer of hope for affected veterans.

The Human Cost

The human cost of the operations at Area 52 is immeasurable. Veterans who served their country with honor now face debilitating health conditions, financial hardships, and emotional distress. The sense of betrayal runs deep, as many feel abandoned by the government they once trusted.

Families of these veterans also bear the burden. Spouses and children witness the slow decline of their loved ones, often becoming primary caregivers. The emotional toll is compounded by the financial strain of medical bills and the uncertainty of their future.

Moving Forward

The path to justice and recognition for Area 52 veterans is fraught with challenges. Legislative action is needed to amend existing laws and extend benefits to all affected veterans, regardless of their classified assignments. Advocacy groups must continue to push for transparency and accountability from the government.

Public awareness and support are crucial. The stories of these veterans must be told, and their voices must be heard. Only through collective effort can we ensure that those who sacrificed for their country are not left behind.

The struggle of Area 52 veterans is a stark reminder of the human cost of secrecy and the importance of prioritizing the well-being of those who serve. As we move forward, we must honor their sacrifices by fighting for the recognition and support they rightfully deserve.


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