Australia vets exposed to atomic tests gain free health care

AP News
Posted: May 09, 2017 6:22 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian ex-servicemen who were exposed to radiation during British atomic bomb tests in Australia and during the cleanup of Japan after World War II have won a decades-old campaign for free medical treatment.

The Australian government announced on Tuesday it has allocated 133 million Australian dollars ($98 million) in the budget for the next fiscal year to provide these former troops with veterans' gold cards. The cards entitle certain veterans to an extensive range of free health care at the government's expense.

Thousands of Australian servicemen were sent to Hiroshima after the nuclear blast as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force and to British nuclear test sites in the Maralinga region of the Australian Outback and the Montebello islands off the northwest coast from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Outback Aborigines and farmers affected by fallout in the arid and sparsely populated Maralinga region will also be eligible for free medical help, officials said.

Frank Walker, author of a history of the British tests called "Maralinga," said the gold cards for a dwindling number of survivors were too little, too late.

"It's long overdue and it's totally inadequate," Walker told Australian Broadcasting Corp., adding that the servicemen's children were also affected.

The U.S., British and French governments offered compensation to victims of their own nuclear testing, but the Australian government had long denied liability, Walker said.

"Statistically, so many higher rates of cancers and health problems have come from families of nuclear veterans than any other group in society and we've done nothing for them and it's an absolute disgrace," Walker said.

Many servicemen reported wearing only shorts and short-sleeved shirts for protection when bombs were detonated.