Representative Grace Meng (N.Y.) and Senator Al Franken (Minn.) have introduced legislation (H.R. 632 & S. 283 respectively) to bring important health care benefits to “Atomic Veterans” who were exposed to high levels of harmful radiation when assigned to clean up nuclear testing sites during the late 1970s. The bipartisan legislation “Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act,” named after the late Congressman Mark Takai of Hawaii, would designate veterans who participated in the nuclear cleanup of Enewetak Atoll on the Marshall Islands as “radiation-exposed veterans,” and make them eligible to receive the same health care benefits given to other service members who were involved in active nuclear tests. Many Navy Seabees were involved in the cleanup effort. Enewetak Atoll was the site of more than 40 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958. The service members who participated in cleanup between 1977 and 1980 suffer from high rates of cancers due to their exposure to radiation and nuclear waste. They are currently unable to receive the same treatment and service-related disability presumptions that other “radiation-exposed veterans” receive.  This legislation would extend key Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to those who helped clean up the Marshall Islands, which still remains partly uninhabitable due to high levels of radiation. I encourage everyone to urge Congress to support this important legislation. For more information, contact Sandra at the Veterans Service Office at 602 Strong Ave on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3pm, or call 365-3612.

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