U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, calling on her to support former nuclear weapons workers in Illinois who have failed to receive compensation through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) for illnesses related to their employment at nuclear waste facilities during the Cold War. For years, Cold War veterans from 29 current and former facilities in Illinois have waited to have their claims processed, and in turn have struggled with soaring health care costs. Ensuring these former employees are properly compensated has been a priority for Senator Obama. He has met with many of these workers and their families, his staff has helped victims with their claims, and he has also requested answers from agency heads. Obama also threatened to block the nominations of Administration officials until he received answers from government agencies on the lack of compensation.
Recently, Secretary Chao recognized problems with EEOICPA, but failed to specify how the Department of Labor would correct them. In the letter, Obama calls on Chao to urge President Bush to improve communication within the agencies to speed up compensation; issue subpoenas to the agencies and corporations that maintain worker records; clarify current DOL policies on the EEOICPA; and meet with Illinois' former nuclear weapons employees who have been frustrated by the current process.
The text of the letter is below:
The Honorable Elaine Chao
Department of Labor
Frances Perkins Building
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Secretary Chao:
I am writing regarding some recent comments you made to the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce regarding the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). As you know, our Cold War veterans have waited years to get their claims processed. Unfortunately, when a decision is finally made on a worker's claim, the integrity of that decision is often in doubt.
I am encouraged to hear that you recognize the problems with how EEOICPA is administered. Nonetheless, what is not clear from your comments is what role you believe the Department of Labor plays in creating these problems or what you are doing to correct them. According to the Paducah Sun on October 5, 2007: "We recognize there have been problems with this program,' [Chao] said at Thursday's Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Chao said her staff has urged other agencies -- especially the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health -- to quickly address the concerns to help people get paid more quickly. And for many of these families time is running out,' Chao said."
I agree with you that time is running out for many of these workers. Every few weeks, I hear about another Illinois nuclear worker who has passed away without having his or her claim resolved. What I am concerned about, however is that your comments seem to place the blame for this program's problems at the feet of every other agency, except the Department of Labor (DOL).
To be sure, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as well as the Department of Energy, share responsibility for EEOICPA's problems. But a great deal of responsibility for the proper administration of this program rests with DOL, and I am troubled that your comments do not recognize that fact.
If DOL is serious about helping nuclear workers under EEOICPA, there are a number of actions that you could take that would be of great value:
1) Urge the President to provide the proper balance of worker, medical, and scientific perspectives on the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health by appointing board members who represent the interests of workers or the medical community.
2) Issue subpoenas to the corporations and government agencies that maintain the records for the work they did to develop our nation's nuclear weapons. To date, DOL has issued only one subpoena.
3) Provide a written response to the following:
a) Does the Department of Labor consider worker affidavits to be true if there is no documentation to establish that their testimony is false?
b) What policy, statute or regulation does the Department of Labor use when evaluating the weight to give worker testimony when making decisions related to EEOICPA claims and or SEC petitions?
4) Meet with Illinois' former nuclear weapons workers who have found this compensation program administered by the Department of Labor to be so frustrating. Specifically, workers of the former Dow Chemical site in Madison, IL have waited nearly seven years for a decision on their claim. To date, only two have gone through the process of dose reconstruction. I believe you would find it valuable to speak directly with these workers and their survivors and hear first-hand about the ongoing frustrations they have with this program. Should you be willing to meet with these workers, I would be happy to arrange the meeting at your earliest convenience.
Thank you for your consideration to this request.
United States Senator