New bill introduced in Congress will benefit Guam victims of radiation exposure

Speaker Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

New legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would expand compensation for those exposed to radiation from nuclear test weapon sites, including victims from Guam.

Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, introduced The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019, which provides health and monetary compensations for individuals who were exposed to high levels of radiation that caused sickness, cancer, and deaths in New Mexico and other parts of the country, including Guam.

RECA was first passed in 1990 to ensure the federal government met its responsibilities to Americans who made sacrifices for national security. The new legislation has more than 35 co-sponsors, including Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas.

“This legacy issue for the people of Guam is more than about policy; it is about cancer, it is about the major impact these diseases have on our families, it is about the life and death of loved ones past, present, and future, and we are humbled to join Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján in making this right,” San Nicolas said.

Without this legislation, the current authorization for RECA will expire in two years – leaving thousands without the ability to pay for their medical care for illnesses directly linked to the exposure.

Senator Therese Terlaje, who coincidentally is having a hearing tomorrow, July 18, on Resolution 94-35 (COR), which is related to RECA, said she wants to thank the New Mexico congressman and Congressman San Nicolas for the introduction of the House RECA bill.

“That’s very good timing for us as we hold this hearing tomorrow,” Terlaje said during an interview with Andrea Pellacani on NewsTalk K-57.

The senator would also like to thank Robert Celestial, president of the Pacific Association of Radiation Survivors (PARS) for his work and for building relationships that have ensured Guam’s inclusion in the House bill and in Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) compensation.

For his part: Celestial said: “The people of Guam thank and applaud Congressman Ben Ray Luján and sponsors for their compassionate and just recognition of the cancer and other ailments suffered on Guam from downwind exposure to nuclear fallout, as determined in a report to Congress 2005: “Assessment of the Scientific Information for the radiation exposure Screening and Education program ” by the National Academy of Sciences.”

Senator Terlaje’s Resolution 94-35 (COR) expresses support for S. 947, “The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2019,” which includes Guam residents exposed to radiation during nuclear testing in the Pacific from 1946 to 1962.

S. 947 was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Mike Crapo (R- Idaho) and would expand eligibility requirements and increase compensation for persons suffering health problems related to cancer caused by radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests.

Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Guam would be added to existing areas where victims can apply for compensation under the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program (RECA). Qualified claimants are entitled to free medical care, health screening, and $150,000 compensation for certain illnesses.

In 2004, The National Academies of Science confirmed Guam’s exposure to radiation as “downwinders” and recommended that Guam be included under RECA. Fifteen years later, Terlaje said Guam is still fighting an uphill battle for inclusion. S. 947 is the eighth version of the RECA Amendment bill introduced in the last 12 years.

Senator Terlaje’s hearing on Resolution 94-35 (COR) will be held tomorrow, July 18, at 10 a.m., at the Guam Congress Building.