Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Bill Introduced Yesterday To Radically Change RECA Program

Well, folks, it looks like Congressman Franks isn’t the only politician wanting change to the RECA (“Downwinder”) program. Yesterday, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch introduced the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2010, which included some ground-breaking changes to the program.

The most exciting change would be the inclusion of all of Arizona in the program, along with all of Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Colorado. Currently, only 21 counties in Arizona, Nevada and Utah are covered, and portions of counties (like Mohave County in Arizona and Clark County in Nevada).

The RECA Amendments of 2010 would further widen qualifications for compensation for radiation exposure; would expand the list of compensable diseases, would qualify post-1971 uranium workers for compensation and equalize compensation for all claimants to $150,000. This would mean that Downwinder victims and their survivors would receive triple the amount they are currently receiving ($50,000). The changes would also include funding for an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.

Crapo and Risch were joined by Demcocratic Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Colorado Democrats Michael Bennet and Mark Udall. Companion legislation will be introduced in the House this week by Representative Ben Ray Luj├ín, Democrat, New Mexico.

In a statement released by Senator Crapo, he states, “The victims of this testing have waited years for just compensation, and the cruel irony is that the federal government has postponed action for so long that many aren’t living to see this bill passed. I remain optimistic that expanding the scope and reach of this program can succeed. It is the right thing to do because there are so many people affected throughout the region.”

As soon as the full text of the bill is available, I will be posting it here. Check back frequently for updates.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Happened To The Mohave County Downwinders?

I always get a bit frustrated when I hear that the reason Mohave County was excluded from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program was because of a “spelling error”.  My response to that is always the same: Hogwash!! And I heard it again, just this past Monday evening, when Mike Watkiss from Channel 3 in Phoenix reported that the reason hundreds, if not thousands, of Mohave County residents were excluded from being compensated by the government was because the drafter of the 2000 Amendments mistakenly confused Mohave County (in Arizona) with Mojave County (in California), and decided not to include Mohave County at all.  However, a quick look at the amendments that were made to the RECA in 2000 and 2002 totally discounts this theory.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed into law in 1990.  The original version of the Act did not include any county in Arizona. On July 10, 2000, the RECA Amendments of 2000 expanded the geographical areas covered under the program to include an additional five counties in Arizona: Yavapai, Coconino, Apache, Gila and Navajo. A copy, in its entirety, of all of the amendments made in 2000 can be found at http://ftp.resource.org/gpo.gov/laws/106/publ245.106.pdf.

Then, on November 2, 2002, President Bush signed the Justice Department's FY2002 Authorization bill, which included several revisions to the program. One of the revisions re-inserted a portion of Mohave County, Arizona (located north of the Grand Canyon) that was inadvertently eliminated when RECA was amended in 2000. Re-inserted a portion of Mohave County? Yes, you read that correctly. There was a mistake made in 2000 when the amendments went into effect, but it wasn’t a spelling error. Rather, a “portion” of Mohave County was completely eliminated from the amendments, and that “portion” was the northern-most part of Mohave County, commonly referred to as the Arizona Strip. The rest of Mohave County was not included, nor was it ever supposed to be included in the 2000 amendments. 

And to put to rest another rumor that has been circulating in Mohave County, Dianne Spellberg, an attorney who works with the Department of Justice, never confirmed in a letter to the Mayor of Kingman that the mistake was a “spelling error” as some have indicated recently. There has never been an admission by anyone at the Department of Justice that the mistake was anything other than what it was - the Arizona Strip wasn’t included when it should have been.

So why wasn’t the rest of Mohave County added to the program in either 2000 or 2002? If a finger needs to be pointed at anyone, I would point to the elected representatives serving Arizona at the time. Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah originally introduced the bill in 1999. Senate Bill 1515 (S.1515) had six co-sponsors with Senator Hatch, including Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, both from South Dakota, Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domineci, both from New Mexico, Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado. The original text of S.1515 is still available online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=106_cong_bills&docid=f:s1515is.txt.pdf, and nowhere within that text is any mention of any portion of Mohave County, north or south.

What’s missing? Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or a nuclear physicist - to figure out that if no one from Arizona is advocating for a change to the program, then there isn’t going to be change. While it is admirable that Congressman Franks from Arizona has finally decided to introduce a bill to the House (after years of pressure put on him by the Mohave County Downwinders), if the bill gets buried in the Judiciary Committee, then the rest of Mohave County will continue to be left out in the cold.

Mohave County, and all of those who support them - call your Congressman, your Senators, and the individual members of the Judiciary Committee. Let your voices be heard as you have done in the past and continue to do. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Are Changes to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Coming Soon?

I am frequently asked by my clients or potential clients why a certain area isn’t covered under the RECP program, or why a certain cancer or illness is excluded from compensation. The simple answer for me is that I honestly don’t know what the original drafters of the Act were considering when they created the program. However, I do know that ever since the program was created in 1990, there have been thousands upon thousands of folks who have advocated publicly for changes to the program, most often in the form of adding additional covered areas and illnesses.

I thought it would be helpful for those interested to provide a status on the bills that are currently pending in either the House or Senate. For those interested in the actual text of the bills, you can check out www.thomas.gov for more information.

1. H.R. 1630, introduced March 19, 2009, would amend the Act to include the territory of Guam as a covered area. This resolution is pending in the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.

2. S.757, The Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act: submitted on March 31, 2009. This bill would expand the illnesses covered under the program to include chronic lymphocytic leukemia, posterior subcapsular cataracts, nonmalignant thyroid nodular disease, parathyroid adenoma, malignant tumors of the brain and central nervous system, brochio-alveolar carcinoma, and benign neoplasms of the brain and central nervous system. This bill was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. A related resolution, H.R. 1878, was introduced to the House on the same day and is pending in the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

3. S.1342, A bill to include all counties in Idaho and Montana as covered areas. Introduced on June 24, 2009, the bill is pending in the Judiciary Committee.

4. H.R.4712, Introduced on February 26, 2010, by Representative Trent Franks, this bill would include the entire county of Mohave as a covered area. This bill is pending in the Judiciary Committee. As many of my readers may already know, the northern portion of Mohave County is already included as a covered area. However, this does not include Kingman or any of the surrounding areas, which were hardest hit by the radiation of above-ground nuclear testing.

This is the point where I am tempted to break out in a little song-and-dance routine of “I’m Just A Bill” from School House Rock. You know the line about “it’s a long, long wait while I’m sittin’ in committee.....” Many bills do not even make it out of the committee it’s been assigned to, so check back frequently for updates.  I will be checking regularly on the status of all of the bills.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Am I Qualified to File a RECA Claim?

I am frequently asked to determine whether or not a person is qualified to file a claim under the “Downwinder” portion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program. Just exactly what are the requirements for a “claimant” (the person for whom the claim is being filed)?   Given that the compensation available is $50,000, it is important to know and understand the qualifications.

First and foremost, the claimant must have lived or worked downwind of atmospheric nuclear tests in certain counties in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona for a period of at least two years during the period beginning on January 21, 1951, and ending on October 31, 1958, or, for the period beginning on June 30, 1962, and ending on July 31, 1962.

The counties covered in the State of Utah are Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Millard, Piute, San Juan, Sevier, Washington, and Wayne; in the State of Nevada, the counties of Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye, White Pine, and that portion of Clark County that consists of townships 13 through 16 at ranges 63 through 71 (which does not include Las Vegas or any of the surrounding suburbs); and in the State of Arizona, the counties of Apache, Coconino, Gila, Navajo, Yavapai, and that part of Arizona that is north of the Grand Canyon in Mohave County. There are currently several bills pending in Congress that would add additional areas to the program, but at this time, there are the only areas that are covered.

The claimant must have also contracted one of the following specified diseases: leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), multiple myeloma, lymphomas (other than Hodgkin's disease), and primary cancer of the thyroid, male or female breast, esophagus, stomach, pharynx, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary bladder, brain, colon, ovary, or liver (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated), or lung.

You can file a claim on behalf of yourself if you meet these qualifications, or you can file a claim on behalf of a deceased family member if that family member would have qualified. There are several categories of claimants, other than a self-filer:

1. Spouse: A spouse can file on behalf of a deceased spouse, even if the living spouse has since remarried. To file on a spouse, you must have been married to him or her for at least one year prior to their death.

2. Parent: A child can file on behalf of a deceased parent if the there is no spouse living that would otherwise qualify to file a claim. You must share the compensation with an living sisters or brothers that you may have, including step-siblings who lived in the same household as the deceased parent.

3. Child: A parent can file on behalf of a deceased child. If both parents of the child are still living, they are entitled to share the compensation equally.

4. Grandparent: A grandchild can file on behalf of a deceased grandparent, but only if there is no living spouse, and no living children of the grandparent. All grandchildren share the compensation equally.   A Grandparent may also file on behalf of a deceased grandchild if there is no parent living that is qualified to file a claim.

Feel free to call me at (928) 776-2457, or my assistant, Margaret, at (928) 636-5363 to find out more about the qualifications of the program.