Navajo Nation Leaders Express Disheartenment as Decision to Abandon Radiation Exposure Bill Expansion Deals a Blow


Officials from the Navajo Nation are angry and upset that the leadership of the U.S. House decided not to give extra money to people who got sick from working in uranium mines for the country’s nuclear weapons.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was passed by Congress more than twenty years ago. It paid Navajo Nation uranium workers who got cancer or other illnesses while working for the government during World War II and the Cold War.

The House, which is controlled by Republicans, did cut last week an increase to the law that was part of a huge defense spending bill that the Senate passed over the summer. As part of the expansion, people from other states who were sickened by radiation from national military projects would have been included.

The head of the Navajo Nation’s Washington office, Justin Ahasteen, told ABC4 on Tuesday, “It’s a blow to anyone who was supporting the war efforts because it basically just says that our sacrifices don’t matter.”

People who dug uranium in the Navajo Nation after 1971 would have been able to get paid if the RECA had been expanded. That was the end of the original bill because the federal government had given the mines to private companies by that time.

Ahasteen, on the other hand, said that the companies took advantage of Navajo Nation workers and put them in dangerous situations at work on a project that was important for national defense.

Last week, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley said in a joint statement that they were disappointed with the choice made by the House GOP leadership about RECA funding.

“This decision is disappointing to the Navajo Nation—a people whose important work helped build America’s nuclear arsenal, won World War II, and sped up energy development,” they said.

They said the RECA program would end in June if lawmakers couldn’t agree on a way to keep it going.

Ahasteen said that people who supported the changed bill were ready to talk, but the House leadership wouldn’t move because they were worried about the cost, which the Congressional Budget Office said would be more than $100 billion.

People who live in the Navajo Nation would have gotten more money, and people from places like Colorado, Montana, Missouri, and New Mexico would have been able to join the program.

Such as the Manhattan Project’s Trinity Test, which was where the first nuclear bomb went off, was done in New Mexico. New Mexico people aren’t covered by the RECA right now.

Ahasteen said that people in the Navajo Nation who have radiation-related cancer or other diseases are often left to suffer in their own homes because the tribal healthcare system can’t meet their treatment needs without help from the government.

Adding, “Nobody is looking for a handout,” “They want fair treatment.

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