WASHINGTON — A Utah sailor who served on board the USS Ronald Reagan, the first ship to respond to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan, is sick.
Now Lt. j.g. Steve Simmons, with the U.S. Navy, wants answers, accountability and a treatment plan. But the Department of Defense says its expert testing does not substantiate the radiation sickness.
A tsunami set off by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011, killed nearly 19,000 people and damaged the nuclear reactors at a plant in Fukushima, causing meltdowns and radiation leaks.
Simmons served on the USS Reagan, off the shore of Japan, as it supported recovery efforts for more than a month.
"We knew that something was going on,” he said. “They didn't hide the fact that there was a radiation leak from the power plant that was melting down."
But he's not sure the Navy or any of the 5,500 on board knew of the severity.
Over the last 21 months, Simmons said his health has melted down, too, and he's not alone.
“I just don’t think they really knew the full scale of how bad it truly was,” he said.
Simmons and his wife, Summer, from Stansbury Park, have spent many days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., seeing doctors and getting treatment.
"We've never had any kind of health issues until he was exposed to radiation from Fukushima,” she said.
He believes he's suffering from radioactive contamination, but his doctors won't say that. "There's really nothing else that I know of that could have caused it,” he said.
After November 2011, Simmons said he went from being a fitness buff always up for a challenging hike to a shaking and withering patient who cannot walk on his own. He’s lost 25 pounds, down to 128 pounds, and lost 25 percent to 30 percent of his muscle mass.
"The muscle weakness has progressed to the point where he needs 24-hour care,” his wife said.
He’s been in and out of the hospital getting treated for his symptoms, but doctors won’t provide a diagnosis, he said. He and his wife are currently living in Maryland to be near the hospital.
"Our biggest frustration is the lack of accountability,” she said. “The fact that nobody is willing to say this was a mistake, and it needs to be acknowledged."
The maximum potential radiation dose for personnel on the ship was less than one month's exposure to natural background radiation from rocks, soil and sun, the Department of Defense said in a prepared statement.
"The very low levels of residual radioactivity that did deposit on the ship were mitigated and controlled," it said.
Attorney Paul C. Garner, representing 150 former sailors and Marines, has sued the Japanese power company and is seeking $3 billion to be set up in a fund to help victims.
Simmons is not part of the lawsuit.
“We’re not asking for much,” she said. We’re asking for the Navy to do for us what we’ve done for them. We’re asking them to step up and take care of those they put in harm’s way.”
He's especially concerned about the younger sailors and Marines. “Their lives are at stake as well,” he said.
He has served in the Navy for 16 years and had expected to stay well past 20 years.
“Those were the hopes and dreams that I had,” he said.
Without a diagnosis of his illness, Simmons finds himself ineligible for assistance from most of the nonprofits that help wounded soldiers with accessible housing. The family is using the fundraising site crowdtilt to raise $300,000 to build a home in Utah.
"There are lots of people out there who want to do something, and they don't know how to help,” she said. “This is an opportunity for those people to actually help."
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