News Reports Suggest Workers Compensation Claims for Energy Workers Being Mismanaged and Attempts Being Made to Restrict Payouts
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today called on the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which she is a member, to hold a hearing on the Administration's failure to properly implement the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (EEOICPA). Recent reports have highlighted Administration efforts to limit compensation for former nuclear workers, like those at Bethlehem Steel and other former nuclear processing sites in New York. In a letter, co-signed by a bi-partisan group of Senators, Clinton and her colleagues pointed out that "implementation of EEOICPA by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has come under significant scrutiny in recent months due to delays in processing cases, denial of a high percentage of workers' claims, and allegations that the Administration has limited payouts as a means of cutting costs."
"I have repeatedly urged this Administration to compensate claimants at Bethlehem Steel through a 'special exposure cohort.' The law is clear that when the Administration lacks the information necessary to estimate radiation doses, then they should award compensation through this cohort process. Recent reports suggest that the problems encountered at Bethlehem Steel are symptomatic of problems with the program nationwide, and I hope we will be able to conduct oversight hearings on this important issue," Senator Clinton said. "The workers at these facilities were essential to our cold war efforts and were exposed to hazardous materials without their knowledge and without adequate protections. It is past time to provide justice for Bethlehem Steel claimants and other former nuclear workers across the country."
The EEOICPA was created to provide compensation and medical care to workers who contracted radiation-induced cancers and other medical problems while working on cold war nuclear weapons projects. Claims are decided by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) by using available records about work conditions and employment history. Using these records, NIOSH estimates the radiation doses received by each worker and then determines whether that radiation exposure was more likely than not to have caused the worker's illness. Because of several instances where data and work records failed to be maintained or created, the process by which claims are handled has come under increased scrutiny lately. According to a recent report in the Washington Post (see - Thousands of Nuclear Arms Workers See Cancer Claims Denied or Delayed by Michael Alison Chandler and Joby Warrick), the lack of appropriate data has resulted in thousands of claims being denied or subject to excessive delays.
This is yet another step in Senator Clinton's continued efforts to alleviate the problems that the EEOICPA compensation claims have encountered. Senator Clinton has repeatedly called for special exposure cohort status for the nuclear workers at Bethlehem Steel and is the author of legislation to amend the criteria by which employees can be added to a special exposure cohort. This status would expedite the claims from Bethlehem Steel workers by stating that when monitoring data is lacking, workers should be given the benefit of the doubt and compensated if they have a radiation-related illness and worked 250 days at the site.
A copy of the letter sent by Senator Clinton along with Senator Brown and other colleagues follows -
June 4, 2007
The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy
Senate Committee on Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions
428 Senate Dirksen Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Michael B. Enzi
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
379A Senate Russell Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Kennedy and Ranking Member Enzi:
We are writing to request that the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hold a hearing on the Administration's implementation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act of 2000 (EEOICPA).
Congress created EEOICPA to provide appropriate compensation and medical benefits to workers who contracted radiation-induced cancers, beryllium diseases, or silicosis during the course of their work for the Department of Energy or its contractors. However, implementation of EEOICPA by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has come under significant scrutiny in recent months due to delays in processing cases, denial of a high percentage of workers' claims, and allegations that the Administration has limited payouts as a means of cutting costs. As a result, nuclear weapons workers with work-related diseases in 20 states are not being compensated, although they have filed claims.
EEOICPA was designed to fairly compensate sick energy workers. Where radiation dose cannot be estimated due to the government's inability to maintain or create records of workers' radiation exposure levels, EEOICPA allows workers with cancer to petition to receive "special exposure cohort" (SEC) status and secure compensation, without dose reconstruction, if their cancer is among a list of cancers specified within the original law. Energy workers from at least 13 sites from 11 states, representing thousands of workers, have petitions for SEC status pending. The Department of Health and Human Services has been slow to consider petitions and places high burdens on petitioners seeking to be added to the SEC.
A front-page story from the May 12, 2007 Washington Post highlighted these problems. We have enclosed a copy of this article for your reference.
We strongly urge the Committee to hold a hearing on the implementation of EEOICPA during this legislative session and we offer our support in finding solutions to the problems identified above.