Sarin attack victims seek healthcare costs

Yomiuri Shimbun/March 1999

Labor standards inspection offices in Tokyo on Friday upheld claims from two survivors of the Aum Supreme Truth cult's 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack that they were entitled to workers' accident compensation due to continuing stress caused by the attack.

The survivors are two women who were traveling on subway trains during the attack on March 20, 1995. They said they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the attacks. Their claim was certified by doctors.

The pair sought the payment of insurance money under the industrial accident and injury insurance law.

Upholding the victims' claims, the labor standards inspection offices became the first labor offices to decide that permanent cases of the disorder were covered by workers accident compensation insurance.

According to officials of the two offices, one victim was in her 20s and the other in her 40s.

The women claimed they suffered flashbacks, nightmares and lethargy. Doctors had diagnosed that they were suffering from the disorder. The doctors concluded that the women's symptoms were permanent.

After the diagnosis, one of the woman claimed insurance payments in April 1996, and the other followed suit in October 1997.

Authorizing the payment in both cases, the officials said they took into consideration the "unusual nature" of the 1995 attack and respected the doctors' diagnoses.

The law recognizes that people injured during work or commuting to work are eligible for workers accident compensation, under certain conditions.

The insurance pays almost all medical costs and an average of 60 percent of lost earnings.

When an injury is diagnosed as permanent, claimants can seek benefits in the form of a pension or a lump-sum payment.

According to the Labor Ministry, which operates labor standards inspection offices, 3,701 people have been recognized as eligible to receive workers accident compensation in connection with the 1995 sarin attack. Of them, 3,359 people were traveling to work, while the remaining recipients were subway workers.

Some people received insurance money for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, the money was meant to compensate for lost earnings while they were off work to receive treatment, according to the ministry.

Many of those who encountered the attack still suffer from some form of mental disorder, according to a survey by the National Police Agency released in January. About 57 percent of those polled complained that memories of the accident would return suddenly, or they felt frightened whenever they rode a train. The survey was conducted on 1,247 people.

Doctors who treat patients for post-traumatic stress disorder welcomed the labor authorities' decision, saying it would encourage those who suffer from stress from the incident to seek professional help. They speculated that a considerable number of victims have not received necessary treatment.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental condition brought on by severe shock, such as that experienced during a war or a plane crash. The problem became widely recognized in the country after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, when many victims complained of suffering from the disorder.

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