As we continue to support the extension and expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, WAND joins 22 other organizations in supporting the inclusion of Enewetak Cleanup Veterans in the bill. Inclusion of cleanup veterans and their surviving family members would benefit approximately 8,000 people who have suffered immensely due to their role in cleaning up radioactive waste from the Marshall Islands following U.S. nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s. We encourage Congress to include these veterans in future RECA efforts.
Dear members of Congress,
We hope this letter finds you well. We would like to start by sharing our deep gratitude for your leadership and dedication to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, and all of the communities that stand to gain from it’s extension and expansion. We know that you understand how important this program is to so many across the country, and appreciate your hard work to support them.
We are writing today to express our support for including the Enewetak Cleanup Veterans in your forthcoming bills to extend and expand RECA. There are a few key reasons for our support:
● Including the cleanup veterans and civilians would represent a negligible cost increase for the bill. The total population of people who were involved in the cleanup mission is just over 8000. Only a small portion of those are alive today. Even if you consider the full population, only a small fraction would be eligible for compensation. For a comparable example, consider onsite participants, which include veterans and civilians involved in nuclear weapons tests. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency estimates that there were 550,000 atomic veterans. But in 30 years, there have only been 5000 successful onsite participant claims, a rate of about 1%. If we expect a similar rate for cleanup veterans, this would amount to only about 80 successful claims, a minuscule portion of total claims expected going forward.
● We feel that concerns that the inclusion of cleanup veterans could dissuade members of Congress from co-sponsoring the bills are unfounded. Enewetak Cleanup Veterans were included in the House versions of the bill in the 115th and 116th Congresses: HR2049 and HR3783. These bills garnered 41 and 49 co-sponsors respectively. By comparison, the House language in the 114th session did not include the Cleanup Veterans and had only 19 cosponsors. The inclusion of the cleanup veterans does not appear to have dissuaded co-sponsors. Separate efforts to build support in Congress for the Cleanup Veterans have garnered significant and enthusiastic bipartisan support.
● In the past, it has been hard to convince members of Congress outside the geographic downwind and uranium mining states to support RECA amendment bills. Including the Enewetak Cleanup Veterans could help remediate this issue, as the veterans live in states across the country and are constituents of diverse members of Congress.
● Highlighting support for veterans in RECA provides helpful, bipartisan messaging that is accessible across party lines. We have already seen that Republican members of Congress respond well to a focus on supporting veterans, which also helps us frame the other communities as patriots who supported the national security of their country. We
believe that including the cleanup veterans could help us gain the support of veterans advocacy groups that have sway in Congress.
● Cleanup Veterans are also seeking compensation through a separate avenue through the Veterans Affairs Department (VA). However, if they are successful in becoming eligible for VA compensation, there is a provision between RECA and the VA that prevents veterans from “double dipping” and receiving compensation from both. In addition, veterans applying through the VA often find it takes 10 or more years and multiple appeals to process their claims. RECA is a much more efficient program that can help veterans now.
● The Enewetak Cleanup Veterans urgently need this support. They are dying at an alarming rate, and at this moment have no options for receiving compensation related to radiation exposure. The medical costs associated with cancer treatment have had devastating impacts on these veterans lives, and the lives of their families. As the veterans age, this compensation becomes increasingly important for the families and spouses that are left behind when they pass away.
We understand the need for these bills to be introduced as soon as possible after the Senate reconvenes in September. Given that language already exists to include the Enewetak Cleanup Veterans from past bills, we hope that this would be a simple and easy addition.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
National Association of Atomic Veterans