Senators Collins, King Push to Ensure Health Benefits for ‘Atomic Veterans’

Bipartisan Bill Would Deliver Deserved Benefits to Veterans Who Cleaned Up Nuclear Testing Sites in the Marshall Islands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) have joined a bipartisan group of their colleagues to introduce legislation that would secure health care benefits for “Atomic Veterans” – military personnel exposed to harmful radiation when cleaning nuclear testing sites during the late 1970s.

 

The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act would extend key VA benefits to veterans who helped clean up the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which remains partly uninhabitable due to high levels of radiation. 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.

 

“The American veterans who cleaned up nuclear test sites on the Enewetak Atoll deserve the health care benefits they earned in their arduous work for our nation,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “They fulfilled their duty – despite the hazards of nuclear waste – and it is now incumbent on our country to fulfill its duty and provide the proper resources and care for them to lead healthy lives. This legislation will help uphold our solemn promise to care for our country’s veterans as they have cared for us.”

 

The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act would allow veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands to receive the same health care and benefits given to other servicemembers who were involved in active nuclear tests. The service members 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. 

 

In addition to Senators Collins and King, the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act is cosponsored by Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). The legislation 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. U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the House companion bill.

 

You can read a summary of the bill HERE.