FOIA Advisor

Q&A: breast cancer from nuclear bomb testing?

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  How can I get my deceased mother's hospital records or Medicare insurance records from 1968 to 1972?  I need to submit evidence that she had breast cancer to the National Cancer Benefits Center.  I have her birth and death certificates.

A.  It appears as if you wish to apply for federal benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA)program established by the U.S. Department of Justice.  Five categories of claimants are eligible.  If your mother contracted breast cancer after living near certain nuclear test sites prior to 1963, for example, you might be eligible for a $50,000 payment under the "Downwinders" program.   You would need to submit, among others things, one of following records to prove your mother's illness:  (i) Pathology report of tissue biopsy or surgical resection; (ii) Autopsy report; (iii) One of the following summary medical reports: (A) Physician summary report; (B) Hospital discharge summary; (C) Operative report; (D) Medical oncology summary or consultation report; (E) Radiotherapy summary or consultation report; (iv) Report of mammogram; (v) Report of bone scan; (vi) Death certificate, provided that it is signed by a physician at the time of death.  See RECA Downwinder application here.  

It is highly unlikely that any hospital or physician still maintains your mother's medical records.  Even today, such records generally are not required to be maintained for more than seven years from a patient's last treatment date or three years beyond death.  Nor do I believe that the federal government is likely to possess the records you seek.  If your mother's death certificate does not list breast cancer as the cause of death, you might wish to contact a State cancer registry where your mother lived or authorize the Department of Justice to contact it on your behalf.