Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Canadian atomic testing veteran compensation: $24,000

Government deal labelled "a joke" by association representing remaining veterans and their widows

Jason Fekete, Calgary Herald

Published: Tuesday, September 02, 2008

CALGARY - After a decades-long battle over their plight, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced Tuesday a compensation package for Canada's roughly 900 atomic veterans that will pay them $24,000 each.

The deal was labelled "a joke" by the association representing the remaining veterans and their widows - some of whom have filed a class-action lawsuit against the government - and an election ploy on the eve of an expected federal campaign.

The Atomic Veterans Recognition Program will offer $24,000 "ex-gratia" payments to military veterans and technology workers from the Department of National Defence who participated in nuclear weapons test in the United States during the Cold War.

Verla Bernicky's husband, Donald was involved in the early atomic blasts.

Verla Bernicky's husband, Donald was involved in the early atomic blasts.

It will also compensate those who participated in the decontamination of the Chalk River nuclear reactor following two accidents in the 1950s.

"It's a recognition that is long deserved and long overdue," MacKay told a luncheon of military and defence experts in Calgary. "These events represent exceptional service, undoubtedly. But until now, the participants have received no recognition for their dangerous assignments in the service of Canada."

The Harper government announced the deal on the eve of an expected election call this week, and as a class-action lawsuit by atomic veterans and their widows, against Ottawa, continues through the courts.

Jim Huntley, spokesman for the Canadian Atomic Veterans Association, said the compensation offer falls short of what's needed for the hundreds of veterans and their families who've already died and other who continue to suffer through subsequent health problems such as cancer.

"It's a joke," said Huntley, a 69-year-old atomic veteran who participated in six nuclear bomb tests in the Nevada desert. "If you think that $24,000 . . .," he paused, "I'm not telling my association not to accept the money, but I don't think it will stop the class-action lawsuit."