Epidemiological studies look at the incidence and distribution of disease, as in the cancer study of Australian veterans of Korea. Such studies represent the best information that is usually available. Some of these studies, the Australian study for instance, have been conducted with great care and great expense.

Canada has adopted the findings of the Australian study but it must be careful about the conclusions it draws. Canada has identified cancers with a higher incidence rate among Australian vets as those that can be targeted as pensionable. But that doesn’t mean that other types of cancer do not have the same cause. An epidemiological study doesn’t give cause, only incidence and distribution. What’s more, different epidemiological studies with different populations have produced different figures and researchers have drawn different conclusions. In some studies, populations with high saturated fat intake have had high cholesterol levels while in other populations with high fat intake the cholesterol level has been normal.

Bureaucrats like to control the figures and fix them because then administration is easier. It is much easier to make decisions with a set of fixed rules than to deal with the vagaries of the possible, which is often the reality. It should be remembered that the program to serve veterans, and a generous program it is, should not function to make life easier for administrators who are in the service of veterans and the Canadian public.

A number of other epidemiological studies have been done on cancer that has a bearing on Korea veterans. One study on Korean males reported a high level of bladder cancer, especially among men about the age of Korea veterans. Studies at Hiroshima, fewer than 30 miles from where Canadians were stationed, show a rate of cancer higher than the normal Japanese population. Though the incidence is higher, the types of cancer do not differ from types of cancer in the general population.

The distance and the timing of the atom bomb at Hiroshima, five years before they arrived, put Canadian troops in the wrong place at the wrong time. There should be no argument disputing the claim that atomic fallout had become residual at the Canadian camps in the region during the Korean War. By way of comparison, note that the explosion at Cherynobyl had radiation fallout that covered 155,000 square kilometers and the radiation had a half life of 30 years.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, 593 Korea vets made application for pensions for their cancers but 150 have been turned down. The number of veterans turned down is distressing. There should be a logical answer grounded in reality explaining why they were turned down and not a bureaucratic listing of a rule. We are dealing with people’s lives, people who at one time stood up for their country. You stick up for your friends, and these were the best friends Canada ever had. They were more than friends. They were loyal sons.

Veterans Affairs says the onus is on the veteran or his widow to apply. While we admit Veterans Affairs can’t do everything, it can do more than it is doing. We couldn’t find a scrap of information in its literature about widows’ eligibility. In response to our query  on publicity, they provided only five examples of publicity outlining cancer compensation. We could find only three of the five on the Internet and not one applied to widows. This is not due diligence on their part.

Recommendations:

  1. That Veterans Affairs do a study to determine the rate of cancer among soldiers who served more than a month near Hiroshima to determine their rate of cancer.
  2. That Veterans Affairs include all types of cancer as pensionable.
  3. That Veterans Affairs create a significant publicity campaign to inform Korea vets and Korea vet widows of the program for compensation from cancer.
  4. That Veterans Affairs in addition to a pension provide a lump sum payment, the equivalent of what a Canadian worker would get who died from cancer -- $20,000 for someone over 60 years of age.
  5. The Australia studies on health and mortality among Korea vets draws a profile of the soldier most harmed by the war. He was 20 years or younger, had been in the army a short time before deployment and was a private soldier who had seen a significant amount of combat. A number of soldiers with this profile have applied for posttraumatic stress and have been denied while others who have not had any time in combat have received pensions. We recommend that Veterans Affairs reconsider in light of the Australian studies how it evaluates Canadian combat soldiers who served in Korea. 

Note: Sources of information are documented in the section on compensation. Comments on Canadian Veterans are based on responses by Veterans Affairs to the questions we sent them. Some comments are based on personal observation of veterans.