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Skaar v. Wilkie Class Action
On January 17, 1966, two U.S. Air Force planes collided over Palomares, Spain. The collision dislodged four hydrogen bombs, which fell to the earth and released clouds of radioactive dust over the Spanish countryside. The Air Force sent approximately 1,600 airmen to Palomares to clean up the accident’s aftermath. The radiation at Palomares poisoned many of the airmen, and caused them to suffer a broad range of health defects in the ensuing decades.
The Veterans Legal Services Clinic represents retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Victor Skaar, a veteran of the Palomares clean-up, as he appeals the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denial of his disability benefits claim before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). Mr. Skaar challenges VA policies on behalf of a proposed class of Palomares veterans, contending that the VA has unlawfully refused to recognize Palomares as a “radiation-risk activity,” and has unlawfully relied on flawed scientific methodology to deny Palomares veterans’ disability benefits claims.
In a groundbreaking 6-3 decision issued on December 6, 2019, the CAVC sitting en banc certified a class of elderly disabled veterans exposed to ionizing radiation while cleaning up the 1966 nuclear bomb disaster in Palomares, Spain. The CAVC’s decision held that the group of Palomares veterans satisfied the requirements for class certification used in other federal courts, announcing that the "decision today heralds the beginning of an era in which we will entertain, but by no means always certify, class actions in the first instance, making us the only Federal appellate court in the Nation to do so." This class action is the first ever certified in the history of the CAVC from a direct appeal from the VA benefits system, and the first ever certified by the en banc Court. The CAVC also ordered notice to be provided to potential class members.
Selected Case Documents
Selected Media Clips
Richard Currey, The Palomares Nuclear Disaster and a Class-Action Victory, The VVA Veteran, March/April 2020.
Chloe Shantz-Hilkes and John McGill, U.S. Veteran Sues Military Half-Century After Classified Cold War Disaster, CBC Radio, February 14, 2020.
Dave Philipps, Legal Win Is Too Late for Many Who Got Cancer After Nuclear Clean-Up, New York Times, February 11, 2020.
Court Orders Disclosure of Information About Veterans Exposed to Radiation, Yale Law School News, November 14, 2018.
Rance Burger and Sydni Moore, Federal court hears case of Nixa veteran who worked “Broken Arrow” cleanup in 1966, Christian County Headliner News, October 17, 2018.
Leo Shane III, Lawmaker presses for quicker action to help military clean-up crews of 1966 nuclear accident, Military Times, August 29, 2018.
Joan Faus, Half a century after Palomares nuclear accident, a glimpse of justice, El País, January 3, 2018 (versión en español aquí).
Julia Bergman, Air Force vet who was part of 1966 nuclear cleanup seeks class action lawsuit, The Day, December 11, 2017.