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King backs bill to extend health benefits to 'atomic veterans'
Exposure came during cleanup of nuclear testing sites in Marshall Islands
Portsmouth Herald - 5/20/2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. - This week U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced his support for a bipartisan bill that would extend healthcare benefits for "Atomic Veterans" who were exposed to harmful radiation when they cleaned up nuclear testing sites during the late 1970s. The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act would allow veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll on the Marshall Islands to receive the same healthcare and benefits given to other service members who were involved in active nuclear tests. From 1946 to 1958 the U.S. military conducted more than 40 nuclear tests in the Islands, but the thousands of service members who cleaned up the area were never made eligible to receive health benefits under the Radiation Compensation Exposure Act.
"Our nation makes a solemn promise to our veterans: you fought for us and now we will fight for you," said Senator King. "But too often, that promise goes unfilled - and that is currently happening with veterans exposed to harmful radiation on the Marshall Islands. It is incumbent upon us to right that wrong and ensure that every veteran is given both the recognition and the care that they earned and are due. This legislation will help make sure America lives up to its commitment, and provides the medical care these veterans have earned."
The bipartisan bill was introduced by Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and was cosponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) It is named after the late Hawaii Congressman Mark Takai, a veteran of the U.S. Army and Hawaii Army National Guard who passed away in 2016 and was the original sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives. The servicemembers who participated in the Marshall Islands cleanup between 1977 and 1980 suffer from high rates of cancers due to their exposure to radiation and nuclear waste, but are currently unable to receive the same treatments and service-related disability presumptions that other "radiation-exposed veterans" receive. The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act would tackle this issue by extending key VA benefits to those who helped clean up the Marshall Islands, which remain partly uninhabitable due to high levels of radiation.