December 27, 2000, 08:00:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Veterans exposed to radiation during their military service and diagnosed with cancer of the bone, brain, colon, lung, or ovary will have an easier time applying for, and receiving compensation for their illnesses, if proposed regulatory changes are approved.
Hershel W. Gober, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), proposed adding these cancers to the list of illnesses presumed to be connected to the military service of specific veterans, thereby lessening their burden of proof when seeking compensation.
"Veterans who were injured by radiation during their military service should receive fair and appropriate compensation," Gober said. "No less than veterans who were wounded on the battlefield, they earned VAs support and the nations gratitude."
The proposed changes apply to those veterans who participated in "radiation-risk activities" while on active duty, during active service for training or inactive duty training as a member of a reserve component. Those activities include the occupation of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, internment as a POW in Japan, or onsite involvement in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. People in this group are frequently called "atomic veterans."
In 1988, Congress established a presumption of service connection for 13 different cancers in veterans exposed to "ionizing radiation," with later changes bringing the number to 16. Under provisions of the Radiation-Exposed Veterans Compensation Act (Pub. L. 100-321), veterans are presumed to be service connected if they participated in a radiation-risk activity and later developed one of the following diseases: leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), cancer of the thyroid, breast, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, gall bladder, bile ducts, salivary gland, or urinary tract, multiple myeloma, lymphomas (except Hodgkins disease), primary cancer of the liver (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated), or bronchiolo-aveolar carcinoma.
The proposed changes would also expand the definition of "radiation-risk activity" to include exposure to radiation related to underground nuclear tests at Amchitka Island, Alaska, prior to January 1, 1974, and service at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Ky., Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tenn. (area K25).
VAs proposed changes ensure equity in the treatment of veterans and federal civilians who are being provided benefits for the first time for health problems caused be radiation. These changes bring veterans benefits up to the same standards used for civilians under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) of 1990, as amended this year.
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