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Free screenings for radiation exposure continue despite RECA expiration

A billboard along U.S. Highway 89 encourages those living in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation to get screened for uranium.
Gabriel Pietrorazio/KJZZ
A billboard along U.S. Highway 89 encourages those living in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation to get screened for uranium.
Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Despite RECA, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, expiring this month, there are still health needs among Native Americans. Only a few regional facilities offer free screenings through RESEP, or the Radiation Exposure Screening Education Program.

“I have stepped into the role as their interim project director,” said Tuba City Health Care Corporation program director of oncology services Tanya “TJ” Riggs. “This kind of goes back to your initial question, as far as you know, the effects of the program sunsetting.”

Just before Riggs began overseeing RESEP in January, there used to be two employees, “but they left to seek more stable, sustainable employment.”

Their departure came at a time when the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation witnessed a noticeable uptick for patient screenings ahead of RECA expiring.

Some 300 miles away is RESEP outreach clinic coordinator Micaela Brasesco at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

“The program has been around for a long time. Over the years, we’ve screened a lot of people for compensation,” said Brasesco. “Our patients are predominantly Navajo and Pueblo Laguna. Our average patient is a Navajo man, around 80-years-old.”

Even though patients can no longer apply for RECA compensation, RESEP clinics could still theoretically screen them for illnesses linked to uranium mining and atomic testing.

“We have been just patiently waiting as far as just updates that are provided to us by the Health Resources and Services Administratrion,” added Riggs, “because they’re closer to the pulse of what’s happening in Washington.”

These clinics are funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, which told KJZZ News that services “would remain active,” at least for now.

Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.