WASHINGTON (WAVY) – U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced Wednesday they are reintroducing their bipartisan bill to secure health care benefits for “Atomic Veterans.”
The bill is for vets who were exposed to harmful radiation while cleaning up nuclear testing sites during the late 1970s.
The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act would allow those veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll on the Marshall Islands to receive the same health care and benefits given to other service members who were involved in active nuclear tests.
A statement released by the Senators says those who participated in the 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 statement also says that from 1946 to 1958, the 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 courageous service members who were assigned to cleaning the fallout and debris from nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands without protective gear in the 1970s deserve the highest quality medical care,” said Tillis.
“The fact that those servicemembers have had to fight for the same level of care as other radiation-exposed veterans is a systemic failure we must correct. This bipartisan legislation is long overdue and will ensure that those veterans receive access to the medical treatment they are entitled to,” he continued,” he continued.
In addition to Senators Tillis and Smith, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Edward J Markey (D-MA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
The bill 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.
Read the full document here.