January 27 will mark the 11th National Day of Remembrance for "Downwinders," recognizing the harms caused to “Americans who, during the Cold War, worked and lived downwind from nuclear testing sites and were adversely affected by the radiation exposure generated by the above ground nuclear testing.”
I think many Texans would be surprised to learn how many of our neighbors are downwinders, living with the effects of radiation exposure. My husband, John Greenwood, who lived and worked in Texas for over 30 years, was one of them.
John was born and raised just 85 miles from the Trinity Test Site, where the U.S. military detonated the world’s first atomic bomb in 1945. Over the years, he would lose his mother to uterine cancer and his father to colon cancer. He lost aunts, uncles and cousins. His sister is the only surviving member of that generation, having beaten colon cancer.
John was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008; kidney cancer followed not even a year later. He underwent surgery and aggressive chemotherapy, but the cancer returned. Six months after his retirement, after 30 years serving the State of Texas, John was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. All we could do was fight for time.
We always knew that the cancer in his family was a result of the Trinity Test, which exposed thousands of people to radiation with no warning or evacuation. But John and his family were not eligible for help or compensation, leaving them to bear the costs of treatment alone. Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1990 with bipartisan support to compensate nuclear testing survivors in Nevada. But tens of thousands of survivors affected by the Trinity test in New Mexico, like John and his family, and other “downwinders” in nearby states were left out.
Without RECA, we had nowhere to turn as the medical bills from John’s treatment grew. John had two major surgeries and weekly chemotherapy which alone can cost up to $100,000 per treatment. Even with health insurance the bills added up quickly, leaving us in enormous debt. At one point, we couldn’t even afford to stay overnight in Houston for John’s treatment. We would get up at 2 a.m., pack a peanut butter sandwich and a bottle of water to drive six hours to MD Anderson Cancer Center. After John’s lab work and chemotherapy, we would get right back in the car and drive home arriving around midnight with a quarter-tank of gas and .87 cents in our pocket. It literally broke us. Our phone and electricity were cut off, and our vehicle was repossessed. I pawned and sold family jewelry and heirlooms just to pay our bills. The stress was unbearable.
Now, Congress has the opportunity to extend and expand RECA to downwinders in New Mexico and several other states, as well as workers who mined, transported or processed uranium. The legislation would increase the amount of compensation available and extend RECA another 19 years, ensuring those affected have time to apply. Without action, RECA will expire in 2022.
U.S. representatives for Texas Randy Weber, Sheila Jackson Lee and Veronica Escobar have already signed on to support the extension and expansion of RECA. But we need all our members of Congress -- including Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz -- to cosponsor and endorse the legislation to help survivors of radiation exposure in Texas.
My husband and the love of my life lost his battle with cancer on June 20, 2012. If we’d had access to RECA benefits, it would have made a very difficult time a little less stressful. We could have just focused on what time we had left together.
We can make sure other victims of radiation exposure and their families don’t have to suffer like John and I did. We must not stop fighting for them to receive the compensation they deserve.
Laura Mobley Greenwood, daughter of former Nueces County District Attorney William B. Mobley Jr., has been a resident of Corpus Christi and Nueces County for 52 years and is an advisory board member of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum and a member of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders.
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: 'Downwinders' need Radiation Exposure Compensation Act renewed