SHIPROCK — Navajo Nation residents who worked with uranium are invited to an informational meeting Wednesday at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Known as the "yellow monster," uranium is blamed for thousands of cases of cancer, lung conditions and pulmonary and renal diseases, said Larry Martinez, program manager for the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers. Those affected by the element prior to 1971 are eligible for federal payments and free health care.

"A lot doesn't affect you until 20 years later," Martinez said. "The illnesses that are most common don't reveal themselves until later."

An average of 4,000 Navajos are seeking relief through the Office of Uranium Workers at any given time, Martinez said. Former miners, millers and haulers have two compensation options.

Uranium workers exposed to the element for at least one year prior to 1971 who have primary lung cancer, secondary pulmonary disease or renal disease are eligible for $100,000, under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

After workers are approved for RECA compensation, they can apply for medical benefits or home nursing through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. Uranium workers may also qualify for an additional payment of $250,000 based on the amount of impairment and lost work they incurred.

"A lot of folks out here don't totally understand how it works," Martinez said. "I'm hoping anyone who still has questions will come to the outreach meeting.


Advertisement

"

It is unknown how many people have illnesses related to uranium mining, said Barbara Escajeda, regional vice president for the Denver-based Professional Case Management, which provides in-home nursing care to chronically-ill uranium workers. Nearly 10,000 New Mexico workers and 3,000 Arizona workers have already filed claims.

A representative from Professional Case Management will attend the Wednesday meeting to discuss free, 24-hour nursing for those who are eligible.

The laws are complex, Martinez said, and many former workers are excluded from receiving benefits. More than 400 miners who worked with uranium after 1971 have contacted the office and were turned down, he said.

"We keep files on them just in case the law changes," Martinez said. "We have people lobbying for more eligible years, more money and money for dependants."

Alysa Landry: alandry@daily-times.com