Downwind cancer victims of atomic bomb blasts are the one group that for years have been fairly clearly recognized as test casualties. But many still are ineligible for government compensation and feel they are being victimized again.

Just ask Priscilla Empey. She says her family is sure the bomb tests caused the breast cancer that killed her mother-in-law, Emma. But government rules exclude her family from compensation."There was no history of breast cancer in our family. She lived in St. George and developed cancer (in 1953) during the years of those tests (just upwind)," Empey says.

"But they rejected the claim because she was over 30 when she developed it, so she was not entitled to compensation under their guidelines."

Many downwinders in the West are also finding they were a bit too old, had the wrong type of cancer, lived a few too many miles the wrong direction or lack the right kind of documents to qualify for compensation.

In fact, a Deseret News story earlier this year showed that the Justice Department had so far rejected 49 percent of the compensation claims it had settled from downwinders (who were allowed $50,000 by Congress), uranium miners (allowed $100,000) and Nevada Test Site workers (allowed $75,000).

"The bill is really narrow in what it covers, and they are enforcing it exactly to the letter of the law," said Elizabeth Wright, a Utahn who is vice president of the National Association of Radiation Survivors.

"It covers only some types of cancers, and only for people living in some counties. It didn't cover at all things like birth defects, mental retardation, neurological problems and miscarriages. Even those people who are covered have trouble coming up with the documents they need to prove it," she said.

Frank Krider, a Justice Department attorney who helps oversee the program, said, "Some people may have the right cancer but live in the wrong county, or live in the right county but have the wrong cancer. It hurts to deny their claim because they feel it is justified, but you have to enforce the law."

He added, "The biggest reason for rejection is that people don't have compensable diseases. They may have colon cancer. It isn't covered, but cancer of the small intestine is."

Fred Allingham, executive director of the National Association of Radiation Survivors, said another example is that cancer of the larynx is not covered, "but cancer of the esophagus is - and they are part of the same system."

He adds, "And if someone has three kinds of cancers - and two of them aren't politically correct - they have to prove that the covered cancer occurred first and spread to the other areas."

Radiation from the mines and fallout have been linked to lung cancer, but Allingham says lung cancer claims are not approved for anyone who smoked cigarettes.

"It's hard proving that you did not smoke cigarettes," Wright said. "Some applicants have been told the Justice Department would assume they were smokers unless they can prove otherwise, and that they won't accept affidavits as proof - so what do you do?"

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Wright says the whole process has made many people bitter. "It has divided families. Some want to forget it, some don't. Some who choose not to file claims look at those who do as being greedy. Some have seen a lot of their money go to lawyers. Many are left frustrated after all the years," she said.

Still, Empey - who besides losing a mother to breast cancer, lost her uranium-miner father and other relatives to radiation-related ills - urges victims to push for compensation even if they don't receive it in the end.

"Even if I knew going in that my claim would be denied, I would still file it so that the number would be counted anyway - and the American people can see what our government did," she said.

"Maybe that will stop it from endangering other people in the future, and that's more important than whether you get money," she said.

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