Wyden, Merkley Co-Sponsor Bill to Bring “Atomic Cleanup Veterans” The Health Care They Need

Washington, D.C. – Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are cosponsoring a bipartisan bill to bring key health care benefits to “Atomic Veterans” exposed to high levels of harmful radiation when assigned to clean up nuclear testing sites during the late 1970’s.

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.

“When our veterans return home after serving our country, their healthcare and benefits should be top-notch,” said Wyden, who will be honoring atomic and nuclear veterans at the start of his Linn County town hall on Saturday, Feb. 4 in Albany. “And that commitment to top-notch care and benefits must extend to those Americans who were exposed to high levels of radiation in brave service to our country.”

“When our service members are harmed in the line of duty, we recognize the debt that we owe to them, and our solemn obligation to provide care and help them heal,” said Merkley. “That principle should be no different whether their injury occurs immediately in the line of fire, or decades later from the aftereffects of radiation exposure. The VA must not stand in the way of veterans receiving the care and benefits they have earned through their service to our country.”

The bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is cosponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). The legislation is named after Rep. Takai, a veteran of the U.S. Army and Hawaii Army National Guard who passed away last year. Rep. Takai 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 remains partly uninhabitable due to high levels of radiation.