Out of 3,326 applications for condolence money from family members who claimed to have lost loved ones as a result of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, 654 have been rejected by Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures screening panels. Since the grant comes from taxpayers’ money, the government panels are very strict and scrutinize every application to ensure that there is a causal relationship between the disaster and the death.
Each local government has their own criteria, which was taken from similar cases that occurred in the past. Panels, made up of lawyers, doctors and other experts, study the medical histories of the deceased and even hold hearings with doctors. However, they have been urged to accept more applications. In a statement released by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, it noted that the very purpose of disaster condolence money is to “support bereaved families suffering from mental stress and hardship.” The federation said that if, during a disaster, an ill person dies without having to return to his pre-disaster level of health, it should summarily be considered as a disaster-related death.
The federation’s stance has precedence in a case, finalized in 2002, whereby a man died at a hospital in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, on the day of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The city said that his death was not related to the disaster, but this was eventually overturned by the courts, saying that were it not for the disaster, the man may have lived longer. Additionally, Fumiyasu Zaima, a lawyer who has handled such cases, said, “The central government should show a more positive stance toward recognizing more cases [as quake-related].”