HIROSHIMA – The number of survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing who are now living abroad and filing for recognition as victims entitled to medical stipends surged more than sevenfold last year to 801, according to Hiroshima municipal officials.
The figure was 112 the previous year.
The sharp increase in applicants from abroad — including South Korea and the United States — comes after a 2002 landmark ruling ordering the government to pay medical allowances to a South Korean survivor of the Hiroshima bombing.
However, only about 30 percent of the applicants have been issued health cards enabling them to receive medical allowances.
The low rate of issuance, they said, is due to a number of factors, including difficulties in confirming whether an applicant is an actual survivor of the bombing, and a shortage of staff.
The situation has sparked protests from atomic bomb survivors and their supporters who want the screening and confirmation process to be expedited, saying the plight of the survivors is a “race against time” as most are elderly.
The health cards are given to individuals the government recognizes under the Atomic Bomb Victims Relief Law as suffering from atomic bomb-related diseases. The recognition is based on the survivors’ accounts and testimony of a third party.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reversed its policy of not paying the monthly allowance of about 34,000 yen to atomic bomb survivors living abroad and suffering from diseases such as disturbance of hematopoiesis and liver problems, following a Dec. 5, 2002, ruling by the Osaka High Court on a suit brought by 79-year-old survivor Kwak Kwi Hoon.
Kwak’s case marked the first high court ruling that said atomic bomb survivors living abroad are eligible to receive the allowance on the same terms as those living in Japan. The government did not appeal the ruling.
According to Hiroshima city officials, there were 112 applications for preliminary screening for the whole of 2002, but following the high court ruling, the number of cases filed each month from January to March 2003 exceeded 100.
The officials said, however, that of the 972 applications from January 2002 to late last March, only 28 percent, or 276 cases, were granted health cards.
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