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Congress has passed legislation and three presidents have signed three laws that address certain concerns of the atomic veterans.3 These allow for increased priority for medical care and some loosening of record standards for compensation purposes for specific, listed health conditions.4 In 1983, section 601 of PL 98–160 directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to contract with an unbiased, disinterested scientific group to study the mortality effects of atomic radiation on Operation CROSSROADS participants. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences was chosen.
The Medical Follow-up Agency (MFUA) of the Institute of Medicine-National Academy of Sciences presents in this report the description and findings of the mortality study it has conducted since 1986. It compared the rates and causes of death of the approximately 40,000 military personnel who were present at Operation CROSSROADS with those of a reference group of personnel not exposed to those activities. Our charge has been to answer, using the best available information on exposure and mortality outcome, the focused question: Have CROSSROADS participants had more or earlier deaths from all causes and from various specific causes than did military personnel who are alike in all respects save CROSSROADS participation? While the report discusses a somewhat broader range of questions in light of its findings, it does not purport to answer such questions as: Does low-level radiation cause cancer? Did the United States act appropriately, from the perspectives of medical science, environmental hazard control, and ethics, in its design and conduct of nuclear tests and follow-up activities? At the sponsor's request, we have conducted detailed verification studies to ascertain the accuracy and completeness of the CROSSROADS participant list provided to us by the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA). 5
In summary, this report will present data and findings about the mortality experience of CROSSROADS participants, discuss possible meanings of those findings, and suggest avenues of further study. It is outside the scope of our charter to determine what fiduciary responsibility anyone holds or should take for the health experience of those personnel. Those are questions that science alone cannot answer and this study will not address.
Public Law 98–542, January 1984; PL 100–321, May 1988; and PL 102–578, January 1992.
At the time of this report, federal statute requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to providepresumptive service-connected benefits to veterans with expert testimony of radiation exposure and one of the following diseases: leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), cancer of the thyroid, cancer of the breast, cancer of the pharynx, cancer of the esophagus, cancer of the stomach, cancer of the small intestine, cancer of the pancreas, multiple myeloma, lymphomas (except Hodgkin's disease), cancer of the bile ducts, cancer of the gall bladder, primary liver cancer (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated), cancer of the salivary gland, and cancer of the urinary tract. VA regulations cover a few additional conditions for medical-care access.
In June 1996, the Defense Nuclear Agency was renamed the Defense Special Weapons Agency.