The following article was published in the "Pahrump Valley Gazette", April 20, 2000. It was sent to us by Keith Watkins.
Past employees on the Nevada Test Site, those exposed to a broad range of toxic substances involved with their employment at the NTS beginning during the 1950s up to the present time, may now be eligible for compensation for any illnesses related to their working conditions. If the plan is approved by Congress, employees exposed to the radioactive metal beryllium, which many NTS workers were, may be eligible for a lump sum payment of $100,000 or a benefit package that would cover future disability, health care costs, retraining and other expenses that could be traced to their illnesses. The plan, if passed, will cost approximately $400 million over the first five years, according to DOE estimates.
The nuclear testing on the NTS began during the 1950s with the Manhattan Project and the first above ground tests in 1951. The DOE has repeatedly fought claims against the agency by former workers in relation to illnesses which were most likely traceable to that time period. In 1999 the DOE recognized the ill effects of beryllium by authorizing compensation to employees of plants in Kentucky and Tennessee. Beryllium is used in the guidance systems on nuclear warheads which were tested on the NTS until the ban on testing in 1992.
The proposed program, under the direction of the Department of Energy, would establish an Occupational Illness Compensation Office which would service both current and former workers with their claims. The Clinton Administration's decision to "right the wrongs of the past" ended the decades long silence concerning the health and long-term ill effects of exposure to nuclear defense workers. US Senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan both praised the administration in its decision. The Senators had earlier drafted testimonial letters to the DOE in relation to this issue which were read at a Las Vegas meeting held Feb.25. At that time, the proposed legislation before Congress did not include the Nevada workers.
Joining in the response to the proposed legislation is the American Legion which issued a news release by Alan G. Lance Sr., national commander of the 2.8 million member organization. Referring to "atomic veterans," Lance states that those members of the services who were exposed to radiation during the testing period, including the 1940s, 5Os and 60s, should be compensated as will be their civilian counterparts if the legislation is passed. Claiming that many veterans "fall through the government's cavernous cracks" in their claims for compensation in the form of health care and benefits, Lance demands that equal treatment be given to those veterans who "fought in two wars: one for freedom; the other for treatment and compensation from the US government." The American Legion is requesting equal treatment for those who were exposed to radiation or other toxic substances during their service-connected assignments and that "those requesting compensation will, be provided hassle-free medical care and just compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs medical and benefits systems."
By Sandi Stark, PVG Staff
From "Pahrump Valley Gazette", April 20, 2000