Senators urge action on program to compensate ill workers
June 6, 2007 - 9:00 pm
WASHINGTON — Fifteen senators including Harry Reid, D-Nev., are calling for the Senate to investigate the program that is supposed to compensate workers who got sick after working at the Nevada Test Site and nuclear weapons plants.
Workers facing life-threatening illnesses have reported delays in getting claims processed, “a high percentage of workers claims” have been denied, and allegations have been made that the Bush administration has limited payouts to cut costs, the senators said in a letter written Monday.
“As a result nuclear weapons workers with work-related diseases in 20 states are not being compensated, although they have filed claims,” the senators said in asking Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to schedule a hearing on the matter.
Kennedy is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has jurisdiction over the program, called the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act.
Besides Reid, senators signing the letter included Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York.
Separately, a group of senators including Reid urged the Bush administration to provide more money for the compensation program, which they said faces shortfalls that are forcing cutbacks in claim processing.
“I think these senators and congressmen, especially those from districts where this has been going on, suddenly realized they better get off their duffs and do something,” said John Funk, a former test site carpenter.
The energy worker program was created in 2000 to provide $150,000 and medical payments to former workers of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex who contracted silicosis, radiation-linked cancers and beryllium diseases from their exposures to toxic substances.
But the office within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that reconstructs radiation dose records is not operating at full capacity because of funding shortfalls, the senators said.
And the agency is unable to process petitions from groups of workers in streamlined compensation cases, they said.
The Rocky Mountain News in Denver reported on Monday that of 674 former workers at the Rocky Flats complex who qualified for compensation, 67 died while waiting for the decision.