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Cantwell, Murray Request Independent Review of Sickened Hanford Worker Compensation Program

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) joined colleagues in requesting an independent review of the Department of Labor's (DOL) implementation of a compensation program for sickened former Hanford workers and their families. In a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Solicitor Patricia Smith, the senators expressed disappointment that DOL had failed to adequately address problems identified over the years with the implementation of the program. The senators stated that an independent review is warranted to ensure the men and women exposed to radiation and toxins at the nation's nuclear facilities have their claims evaluated in a "fair and equitable manner.'

The senators wrote: "We write to request that you expeditiously begin an independent review of the Department of Labor's implementation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). …We are disappointed that concerns that have been put on the record by Members of Congress, advocates, and workers have not been addressed satisfactorily and we hope that in your role as Solicitor there will be a renewed focus on resolving these important issues within the DEEOIC [Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation]. …we believe that the men and women who were exposed to radiation and toxins at our nation's nuclear facilities deserve to have their claims evaluated in a fair and equitable manner."

At question is the Division of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation's (DEEOIC) implementation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) in a timely, efficient and transparent manner. EEOICPA is a compensation program for workers sickened by exposure to various toxins and radiation during their service in the Department of Energy's (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities. Also signing onto today's letter were Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Mark Udall (D-CO).

Last June, Senators Cantwell and Murray sent a letter to DOE and DOL urging the departments to fix inefficiencies slowing down claims processing for former and current Energy workers and contractors. The senators cited recommendations from a 2010 GAO report on improving the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP). The problems identified in the GAO report include: restrictions on DOE site information; incomplete or nonexistent records relating to employment and health; problems with the process to determine the level of one's exposure, known as dose reconstruction; and new scientific information linking the exposure to cancer, which causes the reconstruction process to take longer. The GAO report confirmed that enhanced oversight and transparency of EEOICP could improve the program's credibility.

Senator Cantwell has been involved in reforming the compensation program since the fall of 2003, working to speed up worker claims and improve program efficiency. With thousands of people in Washington state affected, Senator Cantwell co-sponsored an amendment to move the DOE management responsibilities over to the DOL, which had a higher success rate in processing its claims. The amendment was included in the FY 2005 Defense Authorization Bill which passed in June of 2004.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Solicitor Smith:

We write to request that you expeditiously begin an independent review of the Department of Labor's implementation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).

Since the enactment of the EEOICPA and subsequent creation of the compensation Program, the Department of Labor and the Department of Energy have worked to process the claims of former employees and contractors who were exposed to radiation and toxins during their service at nuclear weapons facilities across the country.

We have monitored the implementation of the EEOICPA for many years, and we are concerned by the many setbacks we have seen. We are encouraged by the recent Ten Year Review that is currently being conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

We understand that the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC) conducts an annual review of its own operations, and that the Office of Workers' Compensation Program issues an annual report to Congress of all programs that it oversees. However, our concerns go beyond the basic issues addressed in these yearly reports. For example, annual reports from the Office of Workers' Compensation Program have not addressed specific issues that we and our colleagues have raised in the past, including asking if the DEEOIC has implemented the EEOICPA in letter and the spirit of the Act.

The recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that many of us requested, identified areas in EEOICP that need improvement and increased transparency. We also understand that the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups have recently submitted a letter to your office outlining specific problems with regard to the implementation of both the Part B and Part E programs. We share their concerns, and agree that a full, independent review of the DEEOIC implementation of EEOICPA is warranted.

As you may know, we and our colleagues have been communicating with the Department of Labor and Department of Energy for several years regarding the implementation of EEOICPA. We are disappointed that concerns that have been put on the record by Members of Congress, advocates, and workers have not been addressed satisfactorily and we hope that in your role as Solicitor there will be a renewed focus on resolving these important issues within the DEEOIC.

While we understand the difficulties posed to the Department of Labor and Department of Energy in carrying out this program, we believe that the men and women who were exposed to radiation and toxins at our nation's nuclear facilities deserve to have their claims evaluated in a fair and equitable manner.

We appreciate your consideration of our request, and your past work and advocacy for workers. We look forward to working with you, and look forward to your prompt response.


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