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McSally wants eligibility changed for Mohave County Downwinders

Eddie Pattillo, one of the surviving Mohave County Downwinders, shows a report, “The Forgotten Guinea Pigs,” issued in 1980 about the recognized effects of low-level radiation exposure from nuclear testing in Nevada. (Photo by Hubble Ray Smith/Daily Miner)

Eddie Pattillo, one of the surviving Mohave County Downwinders, shows a report, “The Forgotten Guinea Pigs,” issued in 1980 about the recognized effects of low-level radiation exposure from nuclear testing in Nevada. (Photo by Hubble Ray Smith/Daily Miner)

KINGMAN – If elected as Arizona’s U.S. senator in November, perhaps Martha McSally can pull the right strings in Washington to include lower Mohave County in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act that covers certain medical expenses for people known as “downwinders.”

RECA helps civilians who developed cancer caused by exposure to radioactive fallout from above-ground nuclear testing in Nevada during the Cold War of the 1950s and ’60s.

McSally wrote an Aug. 20 letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to look at a study by the National Research Council to determine eligibility for compensation, and to present Congress with options for improving eligibility criteria for downwinders under RECA.

“Already, many potential claimants in Mohave (County) have passed away after spending decades living less than 200 miles from the Nevada Nuclear Test Site,” McSally said in her letter.

“By contrast, RECA currently covers other populations in counties located as far away as 500 miles or more. The Mohave County Downwinders are deserving of a better, fairer system.”

RECA eligibility is based on geographic locations as codified by law, along with other criteria. In most cases, the Department of Justice is relying on county borders to determine whether victims were exposed to radioactive fallout.

But fallout does not confine itself to county borders, McSally noted, and the flaw behind the current system is “painfully obvious in my home state of Arizona,” she said.

For example, RECA doesn’t cover the lower half of Mohave County, which is home to people in greatest need of compensation, the Mohave County Downwinders.

Downwinders were among three groups of people eligible for payments from RECA. Those who lived in certain counties of Nevada, Arizona and Utah for at least two years from 1951 to 1962 and who later developed breast, lung, thyroid and other forms of cancer are entitled to payments of up to $50,000. However, Mohave County is not one of the five Arizona counties considered for government compensation.

President Donald Trump recently signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for 2019, which directed the Attorney General to examine the feasibility of reforming RECA eligibility.

That’s important because the current eligibility system was deemed unscientific according to the NRC’s 2005 assessment of the radiation exposure, McSally said.

“I believe your report could be a step forward to ensuring that Congress has a scientifically informed discussion on the state of the RECA program,” she concluded in her letter.