WASHINGTON, D.C. [8.3.22] – Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that her bipartisan legislation securing health care benefits for “Atomic Veterans” who were exposed to harmful radiation has passed the Senate and is headed to President Biden’s desk. The bill was passed as part of the historic Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act, which ensures millions of veterans exposed to noxious fumes emanating from burn pits will have access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care and benefits. It is co-led by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC).
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 health care and benefits given to other servicemembers 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 servicemembers who cleaned up the area were never made eligible to receive health benefits under the Radiation Compensation Exposure Act.
“We have a solemn duty to take care of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. A big part of that is ensuring they can get the health care they need both during and after their service,” said Sen. Smith. “Americans who cleaned up the radiation-exposed Marshall Islands—where more than 40 nuclear tests took place in the 20th century—have been fighting for proper care for a long time. I’m proud to see this legislation become law and ensure they finally get the care they earned.”
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. 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.
You can access text of the bill here.