Nuclear Compensation for NM Victims Stripped from Defense Bill

Trinity Test victim: “We are devastated”

An amendment that would have reauthorized and extended compensation to New Mexico’s victims of nuclear radiation was removed from the annual National Defense Authorization Act, released last night.

“The NDAA fails to provide justice for New Mexicans who sacrificed for our national security,” US Sen. Ben Ray Luján, one of the sponsors of the amendment to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, says in a statement. Luján has introduced RECA legislation in every Congress since he was first elected to the US House in 2008. “Generations of New Mexicans and their families have gotten sick and died from the radiation exposure and the lasting impacts of the Trinity Test. For New Mexico to have been ground zero for the first nuclear weapon—and left out of the original RECA program—is an injustice.”

Co-sponsor US Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, said yesterday he had learned the amendment had been removed and, in an op-ed for RealClearPolitics, noted the US Senate’s historic approval of the amendment last July, along with President Joe Biden’s expressed support. “There’s no excuse for forgetting about the people we serve.”

One of those people, Tina Cordova, founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, whose quest to bring justice to the Trinity Test downwinder victims and Native American uranium miners is highlighted in the new film First We Bombed New Mexico, said in a statement: “People all across the American West and Guam who were horribly harmed when our country went about its reckless testing of nuclear weapons are devastated to again be left without assistance. Certain members of Congress care nothing about the people who’ve been dying for 78 years without assistance. They see nothing wrong with looking away from our basic human right to appropriate health care. While our defense budget continues to grow unabashedly, we are left to hold bake sales, garage sales and sell livestock to meet our growing health care expenses when we are sick and dying. Shame on them for taking this position.”

The Union for Concerned Scientists also issued a statement this morning regarding the removal of the amendment from the defense bill, with Lilly Adams, senior outreach coordinator in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, describing it as “a failure of justice, of government responsibility and of empathy.” The fight for justice, she noted, is not over: “We’re going to keep fighting for what survivors truly need and deserve: access to healthcare, restitution for their suffering, and more time to apply,” she said.

Luján expressed a similar sentiment.

“Months ago, with the partnership of Senators Hawley and [US Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho], the Senate passed my legislation to strengthen the RECA program and finally include support for New Mexico Downwinders and uranium mine workers. This would not have been possible without the advocacy of survivors and advocates who often traveled to D.C. to share their stories and make the case for strengthening RECA.

Despite bipartisan support, Republican leadership blocked the inclusion of this critical provision in the NDAA. By doing so, they failed to do right by people whom the federal government harmed. But I am not giving up on justice for New Mexicans and all those deeply impacted by radiation exposure and nuclear testing. Over the course of this process, our support has only grown and the fight doesn’t end here.”

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.