Radiation Exposure Compensation:

Analysis of Justice's Program Administration

GAO-01-1043: Published: Sep 17, 2001. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2001.

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From 1945 through 1962, the United States conducted a series of aboveground atomic weapons tests. Many people exposed to radiation from this nuclear weapons testing program later developed serious diseases, including cancer. To begin the process of making partial restitution to these victims, the President signed into law the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1990. RECA established the Radiation Exposure Compensation Trust Fund (Trust Fund), criteria for determining claimant eligibility for compensation, and a program (administered by the Attorney General) to process and adjudicate claims under the act. The Department of Justice (DOJ) established the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (RECP) within its Civil Division to administer its responsibilities under the act. Through the end of fiscal year 2000, RECP received 7,819 applications for compensation. Roughly equal numbers of applications have been approved and denied, awarding compensation to about 46 percent of the claimants and denying compensation to about 46 percent. RECA claims are most often denied because the victim's disease is not eligible for compensation under the RECA program. The costs for administering RECP have fluctuated from the first full year of program implementation, fiscal year 1993, through fiscal year 2000. For example, administrative costs were $2.1 million in fiscal year 1993 and $1.3 million in fiscal year 2000. DOJ has procedures in place to certify that funds are appropriately disbursed from the Trust Fund. A review of the payment documentation for 30 randomly selected RECA cases in which compensation was awarded indicated that all payments were made as authorized. To identify and inform candidates of their potential eligibility for compensation under the program and to help them apply for funds, RECP engages in three primary outreach programs. The program has established an Internet website, conducts onsite visits to groups and organizations to promote the program, and operates a toll-free telephone line for program queries.

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