FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 22, 2008
SCHUMER RATCHETS UP PRESSURE ON GAO TO INVESTIGATE EGREGIOUSLY SLOW PROCESSING OF COMPENSATION FOR WNY NUCLEAR WORKERS
Despite Recent GAO and DOL Inspector General Reports Exposing Flaws of Claims Processing, Frustrations Remain for Bethlehem Steel, Linde Cermaics, And Other Nuclear Workers
Schumer, With Several Other Senators, Pushes GAO to Further Review Compensation Process for Gov't Employees Who Contracted Illnesses From Radioactive Materials
Schumer: These Workers Should Not Have to Wait a Minute More for Compensation
After years of review, and a recent Department of Labor Inspector General report exposing the flaws of the program, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today ratcheted up the pressure on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the claims processing and compensation process of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). The program is designed to compensate employees and contractors for the Department of Energy (DOE) and its predecessors who developed serious illnesses because of exposure to radiation or other toxic substances while working in the atomic weapons industry but has come under fire for its slow processing of claims. Recent reports have indicated that despite multiple reports exposing the flaws in the program, the claims process is still extremely slow and complex, making it difficult for sick and dying workers to be compensated.
To ensure prompt compensation for Western New York’s and the nation’s Cold War heroes, Schumer and several other senators urged GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro to immediately review the compensation and claims processing of the program.
“Our nation’s Cold War heroes don’t have a minute to waste. Time is of the essence and we have to knock down the roadblocks that stand in the way of Western New York’s nuclear workers receiving the compensation they deserve,” Schumer said. “It is unthinkable that our injured Cold War heroes and government employees have had to fight battle after battle for justice and compensation. Review of this program would provide the compensation that these workers so justly deserve in a timely manner. I strongly urge the agency to immediately review the program, and I will continue to fight to ensure that workers in this situation receive fair consideration for their claims.”
Despite having one of the greatest concentrations of facilities involved in nuclear weapons production-related activities in the nation, Western New York continues to be severely underserved by the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) program. Thousands of New Yorkers labored during the late 1940s and early 1950s in ultra hazardous conditions at the Department of Energy and contractor facilities, while being essentially unaware of the health risks. Workers at these facilities handled high levels of radioactive materials and were responsible for helping to create the huge nuclear arsenal that served as a deterrent to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Although government scientists knew of the dangers posed by the radiation, workers were given little or no protection and many have been diagnosed with cancer.
The GAO has issued several reports over the past few years, outlining needed improvements in various aspects of the program. While improvements have been made, some claimants continue to experience lengthy time periods before they receive a determination of their claim. This often entails navigating through a complex and frustrating back-and-froth process whereby claimants must produce medical evidence to several agencies while their medical conditions worsen or may even result in death.
Schumer has long fought to get aid for former nuclear workers in Western New York. Today, Schumer renewed his push to gain compensation – just over a month after calling on the Department of Labor to implement the recommendations from its Inspector General report in November – and joined seven other Senators in pushing the GAO in a personal letter to investigate the slow claims process and compensation of the program. Senator Schumer and the senators called on the GAO to review the EEOICPA program and evaluate how Subtitles B and E of the program are being administered. Changes in how the programs are administered would ensure that the thousands workers in Western New York workers, including those who worked for Bethlehem Steel and Linde Ceramics, receive compensation for their medical expenses.
Subtitle B of the act provides eligible workers who were exposed to radiation, beryllium, or silica with a one-time payment and coverage of medical expenses related to their illness. Subtitle E of the act provides wage loss compensation and certain other benefits to employees of Energy contractors and subcontractors who were exposed to toxic substances at certain Energy facilities. To file a claim, patients or their surviving families needed to provide proper documentation of their illness and employment history.
The Senators wrote in their letter, “GAO has issued reports identifying needed improvements in various aspects of the program. While improvements have been made, some claimants continue to experience lengthy time periods before they receive determination of their claim…whereby claimants must furnish medical evidence to several agencies while their medical conditions worsen or may even result in death.”
In November 2004, Schumer successfully secured a mandate from Congress that establishes a resource center intended to provide Western New Yorkers with the support that they need to effectively navigate the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. Senator Schumer's language established a new resource center in Western New York that would help sick nuclear workers with their compensation applications.
In 2006, Senator Schumer called for a full investigation of the Nuclear Workers Program after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) completed two major reports on the EEOICPA program exposing many flaws and inconsistencies. A report completed on December 5, 2006, was prepared due to a memorandum from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the Department of Labor that raised concerns about potential efforts to improperly limit the cost of benefits paid to claimants. The memorandum also noted that the Department of Labor has identified the potential for a large expansion of EEOICPA Part B benefits through the designation of special exposure cohorts. Moreover, it also stated that the Administration planned a White House-led interagency workgroup to develop options to limit growth in the costs of benefits provided by the program.
In addition, a report released in November of 2008 by the DOL Inspector General found that while DOL is operating legally and there is no evidence that claims are being inappropriately denied, there is a problem with the slow processing of claims. Following the release of these findings, Senator Schumer, in a personal letter to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, called for the immediate implementation of steps to improve the claims process saying time is of the essence in the cases of many Western New York workers, specifically former Bethlehem Steel and Linde Ceramics workers for which Senator Schumer wrote personal letters to Paul L. Ziemer, Chairman of NIOSH’s Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health asking the Advisory Board to declare a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) for those employees whose radiation levels were high enough to be hazardous to their health.
Schumer noted, “So many of these men and women have had to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get the compensation and benefits they deserve. It is cruel and unnecessary that our injured Cold War heroes and government employees have had to fight battle after battle for justice and compensation. Review of this program would provide the compensation that these workers so justly deserve in a timely manner.”