Sick former Area 51 worker writes Obama

Fred Dunham doesn’t give up.

This time, he says he’s got the Department of Energy “by the short hairs.”

After repeated denials for $150,000 or more in payment from the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, the former Area 51 worker has taken his case to the White House.

Dunham, of Las Vegas, wrote President Barack Obama in April complaining about “miscommunication and misdirection” by the Energy and Labor departments in handling his case under a program that compensates Cold War workers who became sick or died from exposure to radiation or toxic substances.

After his request for an explanation was farmed out to the departments, the program heads replied back in May with reasons he thinks bolster his case.

For one, contrary to the agencies’ assumptions that he’s not covered under the program because he didn’t work for “DOE and certain of its contractors,” Dunham says he can prove otherwise.

The firm that hired him and others to guard Area 51 – EG&G Special Projects – was a division of Energy Department contractor EG&G.

Furthermore, the director of DOE’s Office of Health and Safety, Patricia R. Worthington, stated “DOE does not have records relating to that work.”

“We understand that DOE and DOD contractors were working side-by-side at NTS (Nevada Test Site) and Area 51, but according to the law only DOE contractors are covered.”

Dunham said he wonders what difference should it make under the program that Congress intended for Cold War workers.

In fact, despite Worthington’s assertion, Dunham’s film badge records from his DOE-issued access card for the Nevada Test Site, are kept in a DOE archive at the Atomic Testing Museum building on East Flamingo Road.

As Dunham noted in a recent interview, a division, by definition, is inseparable, like an arm being part of the body.

“I’ve got them by the short hairs on this because of the division thing. They cannot separate that,” he said Wednesday.

“A ‘division’ is part of the body, like EG&G, and the arm cannot move without being hooked to the body.”

He added that he is reopening his case based on an opportunity acknowledged in a May 9 letter from the Labor Department’s Rachel Leiton, director of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness program.

Leiton noted that her office “considers Area 51 part of the NTS (Nevada Test Site) for the period 1958-1999, and that DOE contractors who worked in Area 51 during this period are covered contractor employees.”

A DOE headquarters spokeswoman said Friday that DOE officials couldn’t comment on the specifics of Dunham’s case.

However, she noted that “the Department of Labor is responsible for the receipt, management and adjudication of claims. The Department of Energy provides individual employment records and operational information to support the Department of Labor’s claims adjudication and must follow the provisions laid out in the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.”

According to DOE, the program was enacted to provide compensation and medical benefits to employees and “certain contractors and subcontractors who worked at certain Department of Energy facilities,” including those that provided services at a DOE facility.

According to DOE, EG&G Special Projects’ work was conducted under a Defense Department contract, and work for the Department of Energy was conducted by another division, EG&G Energy Measurements.

The spokeswoman, Niketa Kumar, said film badge dosimeters were given to everyone who visited the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site.

“These film badge dosimeter records are kept at the National Testing Archives. Employment records are held by the specific agency which either employed or contracted site workers.”

Regardless, Dunham claims that part of his exposures stem from operations at the Nevada Test Site, specifically a nuclear weapons test that went awry.

Dunham, 61, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He says his health problems are not only linked to inhaling dioxin-laden fumes from the open-pit burning of stealth aircraft coatings, but also to a nuclear weapons test – Mighty Oak – that “blew the doors” off a tunnel. The result was a controlled release of radioactivity that was detected in the vicinity where he worked. He was standing outside, seven miles east of the tunnel.

After nine years working at Area 51, he left because he was “medically de-accessed” by the site physician because of his breathing problems. “I had coughed so hard that I separated the ribs on this side of my chest.”

Dunham provided a list of 38 former co-workers in security and the fire department at Area 51, who have either died from illness, contracted cancer, or currently suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

After losing an appeal, Dunham noted in 2008 that another former EG&G contract employee who worked at the Tonopah Test Range was awarded $187,500 in compensation under the program.

Dunham said he thinks the federal agencies have overstepped their authority based on assumptions and false statements.

“I’m looking for the truth, and it’s not there,” he said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at or 702-383-0308.

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