Uranium workers and Vice President Nez fight for fair and just compensation

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
202-682-7390

For Immediate Release

Uranium workers and Vice President Nez fight for fair and just compensation

WASHINGTON—On June 27, Navajo uranium workers affected by radiation exposure joined Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez who testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The committee held a hearing on examining the eligibility requirements for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program to ensure all downwinders receive compensation.

The hearing was a significant step forward for uranium worker advocacy as the Navajo Nation President, and Vice President have consistently pushed to hold a hearing on the issues of uranium contamination and radiation exposure. Before the hearing, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye held meetings with and sent several letters to members of Congress including the Senate Judiciary urging for a hearing on radiation exposure and uranium cleanup. 

Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced S. 197, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2017, co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., which would expand RECA coverage to additional deserving states, additional deserving mine workers, and streamline the eligibility verification process.

At the hearing, Vice President Nez urged the committee to extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) compensation to all affected uranium workers, including those who were involved in mining uranium after 1971 until the completion of uranium mining in the Navajo Nation in 1986. “Post-71” miners are not currently covered by the 1990 RECA law, despite the fact that they were subject to many of the same harmful working conditions and now have many of the same ailments as those who worked before 1971. Vice President Nez requested “fair and just” compensation and healthcare for all men and women uranium millers and miners for their risks and sacrifices.

Navajo uranium workers and advocates Leslie Begay, Harry Desiderio, Larry King, Marie Kirley and daughter, who represented her late husband, Phil Harrison, Tommy Reed, and Council Delegate Amber Crotty, who represents the Beclabito, Gadiiahi/To'Koi, Red Valley, Sheep Springs, and Toadlena/Two Grey Hills communities joined in attendance at the hearing. Senator Udall also submitted their written testimony into the Congressional record for the hearing. This group of uranium worker advocates spent the previous day educating key members of Congress on the need to pass the RECA Amendments of 2017, to help bring justice for many of those impacted by radiation exposure. The Navajo Nation President, Office of the Speaker and the Navajo Nation Washington Office helped sponsor travel for the uranium workers.

In addition to requesting RECA coverage be granted to all post-1971 workers, Vice President Nez also echoed Navajo leadership’s previous requests for assistance in the cleanup of the more than 500 abandoned uranium mines that have the potential to continue the spread of radiation.

Vice President Nez also asked that the application process for RECA benefits be made less cumbersome and proof of residence and employment documents be expanded to include grazing permits, Bureau of Indian Affairs Documents, Navajo Vital Records files, and Navajo cultural files.

Acting Chairman Sen. Crapo presided over the hearing and was also attended by Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Chairmen Grassley received applause for participating and granting the RECA amendment hearing that has been 14 years in the making. Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. also attended the hearing. 

In addition to Vice President Nez, witnesses included Director of Idaho Downwinders Tona Henderson, President of the Pacific Association for Radiation Survivors Robert Celestial, and Co-founder of Tularosa Basin Downwinders Tina Cordova. 

All witnesses gave their support for S. 197 and expressed support for fair compensation to all individuals affected by radiation.

In the concluding remarks of the hearing Sen. Udall, D-N.M. highlighted the government’s responsibility to compensate affected individuals due to the government’s lack of warning of the risks of exposure to uranium and radiation fall out.

Acting ranking member Sen. Booker, D-N.J., concurred and announced he would become the sixth cosponsor of S.197. Sen. Booker explained that this action was because he felt this bill was in alignment with his goal to pursue justice for those the government has harmed.

Acting Chairman Crapo asked the members of the hearing audience to raise their hands if they were individuals affected by radiation to which most of the audience raised their hand. He expressed gratitude to the audience members for attending and advocating for those negatively affected. He then concluded the meeting by thanking the witnesses for their testimony.

From the capitol in Window Rock, Arizona, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye acknowledged the sponsors and cosponsors of the bill that included local Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M. and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. and Reps. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Michele Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz. He said, “many of our local representatives such as Sen. Udall and Rep. Luján have been championing this issue for years, it is time for the rest of Congress to help bring justice to our workers.” President Begaye also stated, “our Navajo people from our veterans to our mine workers and their families have sacrificed so much for the safety of this great country. Congress made a mistake in 1990 by denying post-1971 uranium workers full health care coverage for their hard work and sacrifices. Post-1971 mine workers suffer the same ailments as those before 1971, and they should be treated the same. Now is time for Congress to fix that mistake; there is no time to waste.”

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