The late Mark Takai championed legislation during his brief time in the U.S. Congress that called for allowing Americans who helped clean up contaminated Enewetak Atoll to be eligible for medical care.

Enewetak and Bikini Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands were the site of dozens of nuclear bomb tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

The U.S. veterans who helped clean up Enewetak in the late 1970s, however, have not been recognized for the work, even while many of them report high rates of cancer and other medical problems believed tied to exposure to radioactive material.

Congressman Mark Takai in his Washington, D.C., office in 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Takai died last summer, and some veterans worried his bill would go nowhere.

But U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono is helping to take up his charge.

The Hawaii Democrat and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) this week introduced the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, the same legislation that Takai introduced in the last Congress.

The bill, according to Hirono’s office, “would provide important health care benefits to Atomic Veterans who were exposed to high levels of harmful radiation when assigned to clean up nuclear testing sites during the late 1970s.”

“Mark’s legislative priorities made clear his commitment to his fellow service members,” Hirono said in a press release. “It’s not right that Atomic Veterans are forced to pay high out of pocket medical costs just because of the job they performed in service to our country. This bill would finally give these veterans the benefits they’ve earned.”

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Update: Similar legislation was introduced in the House by U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa, the Democrats from Hawaii, are co-sponsors.

The story of the atomic veterans on Enewetak was profiled in a recent New York Times article.

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