More Atomic Vets Eligible for Aid
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Thousands of veterans exposed to cancer-causing radiation during atomic tests decades ago will be eligible for compensation under regulations adopted Friday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The rules add five types of cancer _ brain, bone, colon, lung and ovary _ to the 16 presumed to be connected to radiation exposure during military service. ``Atomic veterans″ who meet the criteria will be eligible for monthly benefits ranging from $103 to $2,163, depending on their level of disability.
The five cancers are being added to the VA’s so-called presumptive list _ meaning if a veteran is found to have the disease and participated in ``radiation-risk activities,″ it is presumed the illness is related to service time. The new rules go into effect March 26.
``These veterans accepted the risks of duty and have borne the burden of their illnesses in service to our nation,″ said Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi. ``They should not have to bear an additional and unequal burden to prove they deserve the benefits they’ve so rightfully earned.″
The VA estimates it will grant 11,000 veterans claims, as well as 5,800 dependency claims, over the next 10 years, at a cost of around $800 million.
Since 1994, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., tried to expand the ``presumptive list″ of cancers legislatively. Although he never succeeded, the VA proposed doing so administratively in 2000, after Congress extended similar protections to civilian employees exposed to radiation.
``This has been a long fight, but one that was well worth it,″ Wellstone said.
Thelma Petrie, whose husband, Bill, died of lung cancer four years ago at the age of 78, recalled fighting for such benefits for decades. Bill Petrie served in the U.S. Navy in ``Operations Crossroads,″ the atomic testing program in the Pacific, in 1946.
``He went over there to give his life, and he didn’t ask why,″ said Mrs. Petrie, of Alvord, Texas. ``I think our veterans should be recognized for what they went through.″
VA spokesman Jim Benson said the department waited to establish a scientific connection between the service and the cancers before adding them to the list.
The 16 types of cancer already eligible for compensation include leukemia, thyroid, breast, stomach, liver and esophagus.
Until now, those suffering from brain, bone, colon, lung or ovarian cancer had to prove they were exposed to a set level of radiation to receive compensation. Few could, and many who submitted claims had them denied.
``There have been a lot of atomic veterans who have fallen through the cracks,″ said Joe Violante, a lobbyist for the Disabled American Veterans.
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Department of Veterans Affairs: http://www.va.gov