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Palo Christi Elementary School in Kingman

Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News

Eddie Pattillo said he saw the mushroom clouds of nuclear testing in Nevada from the playground of Palo Christi Elementary School in Kingman, Arizona, pictured on February 3, 2022.

For more than thirty years, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act has provided federal assistance to people harmed by the U.S. nuclear testing program in twelve states. Many of those affected in Arizona are tribal members, and the Navajo Nation is unveiling the next steps to revive the program, known as RECA, which ended Monday.

“Obviously we are very disappointed. We are very angry that it has had to come to this,” said Justin Ahasteen, executive director of Navajo Nation Washington Office, who added that there are only two options left now that Congress has failed to extend the program. “One of them, again, is the National Defense Authorization Act. The other is to continue to introduce a stand-alone bill.”

Changes could be added to the annual defense spending bill as early as this week. But that alternative, to a standalone bill, would require a two-thirds majority vote to suspend House rules.

“We are confident that we have the votes to approve RECA,” Ahasteen explains. “What we are not sure about is getting support for the suspension of the rules, because the Republicans want to get everything right. But you know what, it’s not off the table.”

Those Republicans in the House of Representatives include Eli Crane of Arizona’s second congressional district, home to several tribal communities, including the Navajo Nation. Crane, who also serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee, expressed his commitment to reauthorizing RECA on Capitol Hill.

“It is a huge mistake to allow RECA to expire,” Crane wrote in a statement to KJZZ News. “Our government owes an enormous debt to those who have sacrificed their health for our nation. I am part of the many conversations taking place to chart a sensible path forward on this front.”

In fact, House Speaker Mike Johnson’s failure to take action to hold a vote on an already-passed Senate bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has emboldened the Navajo Nation, he said. Ahasteen, adding: “We have so much momentum behind this right now. , we just keep fighting.”

The Department of Justice has reported that members of the Navajo Nation make up about 86 percent of RECA claimants across 24 tribes.