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Area 52 Mission Exposed: Air Force Vets Reveal How Top Secret Base Made Them Sick With Tumors


Air Force veterans who served on a top secret base claim that working on the nuclear testing site left them with "all kinds of cancers" and other health issues.

May 28 2024, Published 2:00 p.m. ET

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Air Force veterans who served on a top secret base known as Area 52 claim that working on the nuclear testing site left them with "all kinds of cancers" and other health issues — but the U.S. government won't compensate them because they can't prove they were there, has learned.

For decades, the government conducted nuclear bomb tests in the area, located at the Tonopah Test Range 140 miles outside of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert. A 1975 federal environmental assessment acknowledged that the tests scattered toxic radioactive material nearby but claimed that halting the mission was "against the national interest" and that the "costs... are small and reasonable for the benefits received."

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Former Air Force technician Mark Ely, 63, was a physically fit young man when he was employed at the base in the 1980s to inspect secretly obtained Soviet fighter jets in hidden hangars called "hush houses." But radiation exposure at the site, he said, caused him to develop numerous health conditions. "It scarred my lungs. I got cysts on my liver ... I started having lipomas, tumors inside my body I had to remove. My lining in my bladder was shed," he told CBS News.

But because his service was part of a mission so classified that he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, Ely explained that he can't get the government to acknowledge it. "Upholding the national interest was more important than my own life," he added. "There's a slogan that people say: 'Deny deny until you die.' Kind of true here ... It makes me incredibly mad and it hurts me too because they're supposed to have my back. I had theirs and I want them to have mine."

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mark ely
Source: CBS News/CBS News

Former Air Force technician Mark Ely said he developed numerous health conditions as a result of radiation exposure.

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Dave Crete, who worked as a military police officer at Area 52 between 1983 and 1987, later developed breathing issues, including chronic bronchitis, and had to have a tumor removed from his back. He spent the last eight years tracking down hundreds of other veterans stationed in the area and said he's seen "all kinds of cancers."

While other government employees from the Department of Energy stationed in the area have been able to receive $25.7 billion in federal assistance, those benefits don't apply to Air Force veterans like Ely and Crete who, according to the government, can't substantiate their claims and thus aren't entitled to compensation.

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Source: CBS News

Dave Crete, who worked as a military police officer at Area 52 between 1983 and 1987, filed a lawsuit against the federal government last year.

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Last year, Crete filed a lawsuit against the federal government alongside another veteran. "The government said they secured the area so there would be no more spread of the contamination," Crete said at the time, per The Daily Mail. "The way they secured it was with a barbed wire fence. Now I don't have a PhD in physics, but a barbed wire fence isn't going to do that."

Crete, who now campaigns for other harmed government personnel, said he realized something was wrong after attending a reunion with his old unit. "There are eight of us and six of us have tumors, like that just can't be normal," he said. "One of the guys who didn't said his kid was born with a tumor."

He scoffed at the Department of Defense's refusal to officially acknowledge their presence at the base. "They say their aircraft was there but not us, so the aircraft flew itself, guarded itself, parked itself and repaired itself. It pisses me off," Crete said. "Because we're not acknowledged as line of duty we have people dying with kids with zero benefits for those kids or that widow."



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