Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RECA Amendments of 2011 - Will Congress Finally Make Those Much-Needed Changes to the RECA Program?

On April 12, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2011 were introduced in the Senate.  This bill aims to improve RECA by making government compensation available to a broader population, facilitating the claims process, and increasing the amount paid to individuals who have contracted certain cancers and other serious illnesses as a result of exposure to radiation released during aboveground atomic weapons tests or as a result of employment in uranium mines.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who is spearheading the bipartisan effort to amend RECA, provides the following summary of the bill on his website (http://tomudall.senate.gov):

“Specifically, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2011 would:
• Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed after Dec. 31, 1971 These are individuals who began working in uranium mines and mills after the U.S. stopped purchasing uranium, but failed to implement and enforce adequate uranium mining safety standards. Many of these workers have the same illnesses as pre-1971 workers who currently qualify for RECA compensation.
• Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees, which currently only includes miners, millers and ore transporters.
• Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases for employees of mines and mills. Currently, millers and transporters are covered for kidney disease, but miners are not.
• Allow claimants to combine work histories to meet the requirement of the legislation. For example, individuals who worked half a year in a mill and half a year in a mine would be eligible for compensation. Currently, the Department of Justice makes some exceptions for this, but the policy is not codified in law.
• Make all claimants available for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000, regardless of whether they are millers, miners, ore transporters, onsite employees, or downwinders.
• Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits. Currently, only miners, millers and ore transporters can claim medical benefits through the medical expense compensation program.
• Recognize radiation exposure from the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, as well as tests in the Pacific Ocean.
• Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the Trinity Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests.
• Allow the use of affidavits to substantiate employment history, presence in affected area, and work at a test site. Current legislation only allows miners to use affidavits.
• Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim, as was mandated in the original 1990 RECA legislation.
• Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers. The funds would be allocated to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to award grants to universities and non-profits to carry out the research..."
Clearly, the RECA Amendments of 2011 is a promising piece of legislation, but it is important to keep in mind that it is still a bill at this point.  Many bills are introduced in Congress each year, but very few go on to become laws.  This means that the future of the RECA Amendments of 2011 is by no means certain.

So how can you get involved?  If you’d like to see the RECA Amendments of 2011 become law, you must contact your representatives in Congress.  (For tips on writing to your Congressmen, please see my March 8th blog post.)

We’re keeping our fingers crossed here at the Law Offices of Laura J. Taylor, and we promise to keep you updated on this exciting new bill!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Some Thoughts on Japan's Nuclear Crisis

In August 1945, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. The immediate aftermath was devastating: tens of thousands dead, miles of buildings reduced to ash, massive spikes in radiation. But the suffering wasn’t over. The atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki would continue to claim victims for years to come, causing leukemia and other serious radiation-related illnesses in those exposed to the fallout.

Now, over sixty years later, Japan faces another nuclear disaster: the catastrophic failure of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The events unfolding at the Fukushima facility are being called the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history, and it is widely feared that the radiation leaking from the damaged reactors will create a public health crisis. As the situation at Fukushima goes from bad to worse, we are left with a number of questions: How many people will be exposed to radiation? How many will become ill or die? How far will the escaped radioactive materials travel? How can we prevent this kind of accident in the future? Our answers, unfortunately, may be a long time in coming.

The tragedies at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and now Fukushima serve as powerful reminders of the destructive potential of nuclear technology. As Downwinders, our clients are keenly aware of this potential. They know that the effects of nuclear explosions—be they attacks, accidents, or tests—are long-lasting and widespread. And they understand the human cost of nuclear fallout not through news reports or photographs, but through personal experience.

So what can we take away from all this? For those of us who work with victims of the nuclear testing, two things seem especially clear: we must work to make nuclear technology safer, and we must fight to secure compensation for the victims of nuclear fallout.

We encourage you to join us in this fight. As Downwinders, you have a unique ability to raise awareness and advocate for change. As always, we ask that you contact your representatives in Congress. Voice your concerns. Share your experiences. Insist on justice.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NEWS UPDATE - New RECA Amendment Bill To Be Submitted To The Senate

NEWS UPDATE:   To all who have been eagerly awaiting news regarding any potential changes to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program:  Margaret (my assistant) spoke with representatives from the offices of Senator Mark Udall (Colorado) and Senator Tom Udall (New Mexico) who intend to co-sponsor a new bill, along with Senator Mike Crapo (Idaho) to be introduced to the Senate sometime in April, 2011.  This bill will be similar to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2010, and will have additional suggested changes to the program.

Stay tuned for the most recent updates, and an overview of the bill itself.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Stories of Downwinders: Roberta Larsen

Meet 63-year-old Roberta Larsen**—retired waitress, grandmother of five, and lifelong resident of Northern Arizona.  She is known throughout her community for her generosity, her love of animals, and her blackberry pies.  You may have seen her on a summer day, brewing sun tea on her patio or tending to her trophy tomato plants.

In 2009, Roberta and her family received some of the worst news of their lives: Roberta was diagnosed with breast cancer after noticing pronounced pain and swelling in her left breast.  The Larsens were devastated…What if Roberta didn’t live to see her youngest daughter’s wedding or the birth of her next grandchild?  How would she cope with the stress and difficulty of the treatment process?  How could the family ever pay off the mountain of medical bills? 

Fortunately, after receiving a mastectomy and completing a chemotherapy regimen, Roberta went into remission.  She was fatigued, underweight, and thousands of dollars in debt, but overjoyed to be alive. 

As her life slowly began to return to normal, Roberta realized she might qualify for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.  Growing up, she had only been vaguely aware of the aboveground atmospheric nuclear tests being conducted in the Southwest, but over the years, she had met many local people who had become seriously ill from the fallout.  She knew that a number of these people had successfully filed claims with the Department of Justice and decided to try filing her own claim.

Optimistic about the prospect of compensation but overwhelmed by the claims process, Roberta contacted our office.  Touched by her story, we happily took her on as a client. 

I am pleased to write that after seven long months of filling out paperwork, collecting documentation, and dealing with the Department of Justice, we have landed Roberta a $50,000 settlement.  Roberta’s settlement will help significantly with her medical bills, allowing her to continue enjoying her retirement free from the anxiety of massive debt. 

Congratulations, Roberta, from everyone at the Law Offices of Laura J. Taylor.  Here’s to your health and happiness!

(**name has been changed for confidentiality purposes)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What Happened?

What happened to all those pending bills that were supposed to make the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program better?  Sadly, all of those proposed (described in my April 11, 2010 blog post) changes have "died in committee."

What exactly does this mean? Well, when a bill is introduced in Congress, it is assigned to a committee--a group that reviews bills dealing with a certain topic, for instance, education, finance, or homeland security.  Many bills never make it out of the committee to which they are assigned. In some cases, a committee simply fails to act on a given bill. When this occurs, the bill is said to have "died in committee," and it never becomes a law.

The six bills that were introduced in the House and in the Senate never made it out of committee, so Congress chose not to make any changes to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 2010.  So where do we go from here? In order to get Congress to once again consider making much-needed improvements to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, we need a Congressperson (or Congresspersons) to reintroduce the bills. If want change, as I know so many of you do, you must take an active role in this process by writing to or calling your Representative or Senators.

You can find your Representative's contact information by following the instructions at https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml.

Your Senators' contact information can be found at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=last_name&Sort=ASC.

Finally, if you'd like some advice on writing an effective letter to a Congressperson, here is a helpful link:

Have a great week!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Stories of Downwinders

I am starting a new blog series this week about the stories my Downwinder clients have shared with me over the years, and the process my clients go through to get the compensation they deserve. These stories are sad, but yet inspiring, and while I do not have the time to compile every story into a book, as I would like to do some day, I do have time to share them with you on this blog.  Enjoy!

Let me introduce you to Jose*, my first Downwinder client. He literally walked into my Prescott office by chance sometime in 2000 with no appointment made in advance and no referral from another lawyer. I invited him in to sit for a while, gave him a glass of water and decided to listen to his story.

Jose was a sweet, quiet and unassuming man, who had just recently lost his wife to lung cancer. Left with her four boys to raise on his own, and too many medical bills to mention, her death left him in a precarious financial situation. Jose had read a newspaper article about the Downwinder program in the local paper, and thought maybe he might qualify for the compensation. I read through that article, having never heard of the program before, and told him I did not think I could help. While it certainly sounded like an interesting program, it was definitely not my area of expertise. I explained to him gently that I had never filed a claim before, did not know how the program worked, and was clearly not the best attorney for the job. He considered those to be lousy excuses, and pleaded with me to represent him.

Setting all excuses aside, I decided to give it a try. I was a new attorney, and really had not figured out what my “niche” was going to be. Little did I know that it would take five years (yes, five!) to get Jose’s claim approved. The paperwork was complicated, and Jose’s common-law marriage to his wife was not recognized by the Department of Justice. I was concerned throughout the process that because Jose wouldn’t qualify for compensation because his wife had been a lifelong smoker. Much to my frustration, the Department of Justice denied the claim because of the common-law marriage issue. I decided not to give up and re-filed the claim on behalf of the four boys, several of whom were minors, and one of whom was stationed overseas in the military. What a process! The smoking issue because a non-issue, as I later learned that lung cancer is covered regardless of whether the victim was a smoker.

When the claim was finally approved, much to my surprise, Jose brought his entire family to meet me when the checks were issued. What a treat to meet this wonderful family that I had been working with for five years. About a year later, I went on to file a second claim on behalf of Jose and his sisters and brothers for their mom who had lost her battle with cancer.

And that is how it goes in this business. One claim sadly leads to another and another. I have filed claims for children who have lost both parents to cancer, and then have gone on to develop cancer themselves. It is sad to see so many family members lost to cancer, but for those who do survive, the money can make a huge difference.

Until next time, have a great week.
*Names have been changed.