WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- He served his country, but has his country turned it's back on him? A Maryland sailor says he's now wheelchair-bound, and he blames it on radiation he was exposed to while representing his country at what's been called the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Steve Simmons spoke to WUSA9's Debra Alfarone exclusively.
Simmons never needed any help getting out on the golf course, "Even if it is a bad shot, I'm still happy."
Golf, hiking, he's always been the guy that never stops, "I love P90X, in fact after I did P90X, I also ordered the insanity workout."
Until November 2011.
Steve was 33. That's when life started changing for this U.S. Naval Administrative Officer. It was eight months after Simmons served on the USS Ronald Reagan when it was the first ship to respond to what's been called the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl - the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. It was the result of being slammed by a powerful tsunami, triggered by the most violent earthquake Japan had ever seen. Steve started feeling tired, not himself. Then, he blacked out while driving to work, and drove his truck up on a curb. Steve said his list of ailments was puzzling, "You're starting to run fevers, your lymph nodes start swelling, you're having night sweats, you're getting spastic and you're losing sensation in your legs, and you can't feel your legs when you're getting 2nd degree burns on them, and how do you explain those things?"
Doctors could not. Steve's leg muscles eventually just gave up, and he's now confined to a wheelchair to get around.
Steve's then-fiance, now-wife, Summer, had just moved cross-country to Maryland with her 3 children to start their lives together. She says she was shocked, but quickly made a plan, "Things change, I started calling around, borrowed a wedding dress, we started looking for a chaplain and we were married the day before Easter in 2012 in a borrowed wedding gown and his dress whites. It was the last time Steve was really able to spend the day on his feet."
Steve explains, "As far as the big picture we still don't have a diagnosis of what this is, still struggling to even get a doctor to acknowledge that radiation had anything to do with it."
That diagnosis is critical. Without the Navy acknowledging Steve wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for his time in Operation Tomodachi, his retirement and pension are at stake, plus he doesn't qualify for aid in the same the way he would if he lost his legs in an IED explosion.
The Department of Defense says radiation levels were safe, and were the equivalent to less than a month's exposure to the same natural radiation you pick up from being near rocks, soil and the sun.
Steve doesn't buy that, "How do you take a ship and place it into a nuclear plume for five plus hours, how do you suck up nuclear contaminated waste into the water filtration system and think for one minute that there's no health risk to anybody on board."
Dr. Robert Peter Gale is one of the world's leading experts on radiation's effects, WUSA9 asked him if he thinks Steve's condition is related, he said no, "I feel badly about it, but it's extraordinarily unlikely that it has anything to do with radiation exposure. There's no toxic agent that we can measure as precise as radiation. It's very unlikely that the Department of Defense would not have precise data on this."
But, Attorney Paul Garner, who is representing more than 70 sailors from the Reagan, now experiencing medical issues, says the Tokyo Electric Power Plant (TEPCO) who owns the plant misled the U.S., "I think TEPCO lied to the world, and our government sent these people in there on a humanitarian mission without consideration of whether or not they were sending these people into a zone where they had a nuclear explosion."
Garner lists the issues his clients are facing, "Thyroid cancer, brain cancers, gynecological bleeding, growths on their body, hair falling out in clumps, loss of vision, destruction of the immune system."
Steve desperately needs that diagnosis, not just for he and his family but also for those he served with, many he says are in their teens and twenties.
"If I can touch somebody and help somebody else work through their struggles...then I've succeeded, and that's ultimately what really matters at this point for me."
On Steve's good days, golf serves as an escape, "After you're done, no matter how good or how bad you played, you can go back and face the rest of the world. You don't have to think about that stuff out on the golf course."
It's a couple of minutes cherished in the sun, before life comes back into focus. Summer says they have to face the facts, "This has progressed and no one wants to think about their mortality but realistically we don't know how much time we have left together."
The Simmons family lives in Fort Detrick, the only military housing they say can accommodate Steve's wheelchairs. But, they can't stay forever. And without help from a non-profit, a wheelchair accessible home isn't looking likely.
Summer says they desperately want to give their three children a home where, after Steve's gone, they can feel their father's presence there. They have found some non-profits that can offer some assistance, but building a handicap-accessible home will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If you know of any non-profits that can help, or you would like to donate to the Simmon's GoFundMe page, visit http://www.gofundme.com/wwltjgsimmonshome