U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Support Health Care for “Atomic Veterans”

Legislation Would Bring Health Benefits to Radiation-Exposed Veterans Who Cleaned Up Nuclear Testing Sites in Marshall Islands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, helped introduce a bipartisan measure to support health care benefits for “Atomic Veterans” who were exposed to harmful radiation when they cleaned up nuclear testing sites during the late 1970s.   

“Our veterans have served and sacrificed for our nation and the freedoms we all cherish. We all have a shared responsibility to do our part to do right by them,” said Senator Baldwin. “This bipartisan legislation is an important step forward in expanding health care benefits to veterans exposed to harmful radiation. These veterans have waited far too long for this recognition and they shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for certain costs because the VA won’t accept their exposure. We need to change this and make sure Atomic Cleanup Veterans get the health care benefits they deserve.”

The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, led by Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), would allow veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll on the Marshall Islands to receive the same healthcare and benefits given to other service members 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 service members who cleaned up the area were never made eligible to receive health benefits under the Radiation Compensation Exposure Act.

The service members 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 bipartisan Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act is cosponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It’s 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.  

The full summary of the bill is available here.