SCHUMER-REQUESTED REPORT ON NUCLEAR WORKERS PROGRAM FINDS SLOW PROCESSING FOR COMPENSATION CLAIMS - SENATOR DEMANDS FASTER PROCESSING TO HELP BETHLEHEM STEEL, LINDE CERAMICS, AND OTHER WNY NUCLEAR WORKERS
In 2006, Schumer Called For a Full Investigation of the DOL's Administration of the Nuclear Workers Program After Two Shocking Reports that Federal Agencies Were Limiting Payouts to Nuclear Workers Sickened By Exposure to Toxic MaterialsReport Released Today Found That DOL Should Take Steps to Reduce Claim Processing Times - Former Bethlehem Steel Workers Have Been Fighting for Federal Health Compensation Since 2000 Schumer: Western New York's Cold War Heroes Deserve Better
Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4
Following today's release of a Department of Labor (DOL) Inspector General report that found DOL at fault for slow processing of claims for former nuclear workers' federal health compensation, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the DOL to immediately take steps to speed up processing.
In an effort to help Western New York's former nuclear workers at Bethlehem Steel, Linde Ceramics, and other area facilities, Schumer called for immediate action to remedy the problems identified in the report. Schumer said the Department of Labor should immediately implement the report's six recommendations to process the cold war heroes' claims quickly and efficiently and to improve claimants' understanding of the claims process.
"The one thing our Cold War heroes who were exposed to nuclear radiation don't have is time. The Department of Labor must put their applications for muchdeserved health compensation on the fast track immediately," Schumer said. "The Inspector General report clearly identifies how the Department of Labor should fix their claim processing and the Department should implement those steps, or other steps that would improve the process, immediately. Too many workers who were sickened by exposure to radiation in the process of building up our nation's defenses have already passed away. We don't have a minute to waste."
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. The most recent, completed on December 5, 2006, was prepared due to a recent 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 Houseled interagency workgroup to develop options to limit growth in the costs of benefits provided by the program. In the report released today, the 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.
"These workers risked everything in service to our nation during the Cold War. For the government to turn around and institute a slowwalking and pennypinching approach to the compensation to which they are entitled is simply unacceptable," said Senator Schumer.
Secondly, a November 30, 2006 memo prepared by Republican staff for the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims stated "there is a continuous stream of (administration) communications… strategizing on minimizing payouts." The memo summarizes and quotes from thousands of pages of records reviewed by the subcommittee in its probe.
Today, the Department of Labor's Inspector General released its report, making six recommendations to the Assistant Secretary for Employment Standards that would further reduce the time required to process claims, better utilize resource centers, and increase contact with claimants to keep them informed of the status of their claim.
The recommendations include increasing interagency collaboration, through a system to track claims and expanded agreements; increasing speed by creating a single measure of timeliness and by pursuing multiple sources of information simultaneously; and increasing claimants' understanding, by improving the use of Resource Centers and by increasing contact with claimants.
Senator Schumer, in a personal letter to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao today, called for the immediate implementation of steps to improve the process, identifying the report's recommendations as important options, and saying time is of the essence in the cases of the former Bethlehem Steel and Linde Ceramics workers in Western New York, as well as other former nuclear workers across the county.
Schumer wrote, "Specifically, the report highlights two concerns which we have consistently heard echoed by our constituents: first, that the Department does not adequately educate claimants with regards to the process; and second, that the process is very lengthy.
"Obviously, for the men and women now ill from exposure to radiation, time is of the essence. Already, far too many have passed away without receiving compensation for the injuries they sustained in defense of our nation.
"The report makes six recommendations for addressing these two concerns. We encourage you to adopt these or other measures to address the problems of education and timeliness."
Despite having one of the greatest concentrations of facilities involved in nuclear weapons productionrelated 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 Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) was created by Congress to compensate the unsung heroes of the Cold War who were sickened as a result of their service in radiation facilities directly managed or financed by the federal government. This law was designed to compel the government to find the fastest, most humane way to speed compensation to victims.
Senator Schumer has aggressively worked to get aid for former nuclear workers in Western New York. In an effort to compensate these workers, Congress passed EEOICPA in 2000 which allowed them to file claims with the US Department of Labor for individual payments of $150,000 and other benefits for medical treatments. Workers who contracted radioactive cancer, beryllium disease or chronic silicosis after working at sites that performed nuclear weapons work during World War II and the Cold War were eligible. To file a claim, patients or their surviving families needed to provide proper documentation of their illness and employment history.
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.
See Below For A Full Copy of the Letter:
November 13, 2008
The Honorable Elaine Chao
Secretary of Labor
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Secretary Chao:
Yesterday, Inspector General Gordon Heddell released to our offices his report on the Department of Labor's (DOL) administration of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). His report shows that DOL is working to comply with its statutory mandate of administering a "claimantfriendly" process, but identifies a number of areas in which DOL could improve its service.
Specifically, the report highlights two concerns which we have consistently heard echoed by our constituents: first, that the Department does not adequately educate claimants with regards to the process; and second, that the process is very lengthy. Obviously, for the men and women now ill from exposure to radiation, time is of the essence. Already, far too many have passed away without receiving compensation for the injuries they sustained in defense of our nation. The report makes six recommendations for addressing these two concerns. We encourage you to work to immediately adopt these or other measures to address the problems of education and timeliness.
The men and women who worked for the Department of Energy and its contractors were instrumental in creating the nuclear arsenal that protected the United States during the Cold War, and which continues to protect us today. Rewarding their sacrifices is a moral obligation that we take very seriously. We know that you share our desire to repay these Cold War heroes, and we appreciate your efforts to administer and improve EEOICPA.
We look forward to your reply detailing your Department's responses to the recommendations in the Inspector General's report. .
Charles E. Schumer
Previous Article Next Article