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Congresswoman Grace Meng

Representing the 6th District of New York

Congresswoman Meng, Senator Franken Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Bring “Atomic Cleanup Veterans” The Health Care They Need

Feb 3, 2017
Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) have introduced a commonsense bipartisan bill 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 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 healthcare and benefits given to other service members who were involved in active nuclear tests.
“Service members who cleaned up Enewetak Atoll deserve the same benefits that U.S. law guarantees to other service members who were exposed to dangerous radiation and nuclear waste,” said Rep. Meng. “It is imperative that Congress recognize and correct this discrepancy as soon as possible. My good friend Rep. Takai cared deeply about this bipartisan issue, and this legislation will not only rectify the omission, but honor his commitment to our service members and his dedication to public service. I’m happy to partner with Senator Franken on this important initiative, and I thank him for introducing a version of this legislation in the Senate.” 
“One of my highest priorities as a Senator is making sure that our veterans and their families get every benefit that they deserve,” Senator Franken said. “Atomic Cleanup Veterans are often forced to pay out of pocket for certain medical costs because the VA does not recognize that they were exposed to high levels of radiation. Despite being put in harm’s way, these veterans are being shortchanged. Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation ensures that veterans who participated in the cleanup of the Enewetak Atoll receive the benefits they deserve and should have received long ago.”
The legislation is named after Rep. Takai, a veteran of the U.S. Army and Hawaii Army National Guard who passed away last year, since he originally sponsored the bill in the House during the last session of Congress.
Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands was the site of more than 40 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958. The service members who participated in its nuclear 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.
A copy of the bill can be viewed here.