Gosar, Stanton Continue to Fight for Victims of Radiation Exposure; Push Justice for Downwinders Amendment in NDAA

This week, U.S. Congressmen Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-4) and Greg Stanton (AZ-9) introduced a bipartisan amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to include justice for victims of radiation exposure in Mohave County, Arizona and Clark County, Nevada—a continuation of their work together on the issue.

The area included in the amendment is home to many “Downwinders,” individuals who lived downwind of nuclear test sites or reactors and were exposed to the fallout of U.S. government nuclear tests from 1945 to 1962. COVID-19 has made the need to bring justice to Downwinders more urgent. 

“Military testing is vital to ensuring our nation is prepared to protect against hostile threats,” said Gosar. “Unfortunately, this military readiness exposed many Arizonans to cancer-causing carcinogens from atmospheric nuclear tests and I remain committed to correcting this injustice by the federal government. The partial exclusion of Mohave County residents from compensation is an error in statutory text that has cost many Arizonans due compensation and must be resolved.”

“Although many years ago Congress created a trust fund to compensate exposure victims, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act included serious boundary flaws that blocked otherwise eligible Arizonans and Nevadans from receiving the compensation to which they are entitled. Downwinders and advocates have been fighting for this justice for many years. Now, with a pandemic that puts them at greater risk, we need to make sure their voices are heard and finally right this wrong,” Stanton said.

As of today, Mohave County has 1,937 reported cases and 99 deaths from COVID-19. Clark County has 24,824 reported cases and 498 deaths. Radiation exposure has resulted in increased rates of many forms of cancer, including lung cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphomas and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that individuals who are older and cancer patients who are immunocompromised “might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”

Prescott attorney Laura Taylor, who has been processing claims through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program for the past 17 years, says it is time for Congress to fix this issue.

“I hear the stories of our clients whose friends, neighbors and family members went outside to watch the huge, pinkish fallout cloud from the atomic tests,” Taylor said.

“Little did they know how later in life those friends and families would be labeled ‘Downwinders,’ and would battle the devastating effects of cancer and leukemia. While I understand it impacts a limited number of individuals from two states, those individuals in Mohave County and Clark County have suffered the same losses as those individuals who lived further away from the test site and deserve to be compensated for that loss.”

Kingman resident Cullin Pattillo shared his family’s experience dealing with the long-term effects of radiation exposure in lower Mohave County:

“My dear father has had not just one, but two cancers listed as compensable under the RECA guidelines,” Pattillo said. “By my estimation my father has had to endure far in excess of one million dollars in medical care related to his cancers, and I am certain if I added up all the bills over the last 23 years the actual amount would be much, much higher.”

Gosar held a Downwinders Field Hearing in 2014. In 2015 Gosar first introduced the Downwinders Compensation Act to expand eligibility for compensation to residents of Mohave County. 

In 2018 Gosar's successfully passed a downwinders amendment to the NDAA that would require the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to perform an assessment to determine if certain individuals exposed to nuclear fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing by the federal government at the Nevada Test Site contracted certain cancers as a result of that testing and should be eligible for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Gosar and Stanton first joined forces to advocate for the change to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in February of this year when they introduced a standalone bill on the issue that includes the language of Downwinders Compensation Act and extends the timeline for filing claims for an additional 5 years to 2027. If Congress does not act, the fund will expire in 2022.

The National Defense Authorization Act is scheduled to be considered by the House of Representatives next week.

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