ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Under new Veterans Affairs regulations, Amchitka military personnel who developed radiation-related cancers may be eligible for medical benefits and compensation.
The workers were stationed on Amchitka Island during the atomic testing era three decades ago.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi said the Amchitka atomic veterans have been added to a program that since 1988 has provided benefits to military personnel who served during the post-World War II occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or at sites where America conducted above-ground nuclear tests.
Until now, personnel stationed at Amchitka during the underground nuclear testing era there have not been eligible for the VA program. Until last year, civilian employees of contractors who worked on the Amchitka tests were excluded from compensation and benefits available to civilians who worked at above-ground test sites.
Both Amchitka groups now are eligible, for different compensation and benefits packages.
Under the new VA regulations, the agency will presume a connection between service on Amchitka and any of 20 forms of radiation-related cancers. The regulatory changes are effective March 26.
It's unclear how many military personnel served on Amchitka during the three atomic tests there -- Long Shot in 1965, Milrow in 1969 and 5-megaton Cannikin in 1971.
The VA said one reason for adding Amchitka military vets to the program is to ''ensure equity between veterans and federal civilians who may be entitled to compensation for these cancers.''
The civilian Amchitka benefits program provides $150,000 lump sum compensation payments to eligible workers or their survivors. However, compensation for former Amchitka military personnel likely will vary according to an individual's condition and degree of disability, according to Richard Conant, director of the National Association of Atomic Veterans in Albuquerque, N.M.
''We're telling people to go ahead and file,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News. ''You know what they say: The government doesn't come to you, you've got to go to it.''
The regulations list certain diseases presumed to be service-related if a veteran was working in what the VA calls a ''radiation-risk activity''. They are leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), cancers of the thyroid, breast, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, gall bladder, bile ducts, salivary gland, urinary tract, bone, brain, colon, lung or ovary, or multiple myeloma, lymphomas (except Hodgkin's disease), primary cancer of the liver, or bronchiolo-alveolar carcinoma.
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