Craig man seeks support from McInnis

Former Rocky Flats worker says Congressman ignoring compensation needs of those who were employed at nuclear weapons plant

George Barrie went to work at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant as a machinist in 1980.

Eight years into his job, he said he could no longer work a 40-hour week or even a 20-hour week.

Since then, he has been diagnosed with 26 different illnesses, including chronic atrophic gastritis and a brain lesion and has undergone radical gall bladder surgery. Illnesses he attributes to exposure to radiation while working at Rocky Flats.

"I keep getting worse," said Barrie at his home in Craig, where he has lived for 11 years. "Every time I turn around I have something else. I keep getting these abnormal things out of the blue."

Despite having documentation that shows he was exposed to radiation at Rocky Flats, up to this point, he has no medical compensation from his previous employer.

Which is why Barrie, and his wife, Terrie, are circulating a petition in Craig to get U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis to sign onto a bill being introduced this week that would amend the Energy Employees Occupation Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000.

The bill would help assure that people such as Barrie are compensated for illnesses that have resulted from exposure to radiation and other hazards.

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall cosponsored the bill and said nationally 40,000 people have filed claims and more than 20,000 have been repaid.

But thousands of claims are caught in administrative red tape under the current act passed in 2000, Udall said.

And worse, under the current law many of the people making claims in Colorado won't be paid because of the details of the state's Workmen's Compensation Program.

The bill Udall cosponsored would fix that by having the Labor Department, not the state program, pay the claims.

It also would speed up the handling of claims to cover more illnesses.

"It is very important for Colorado because our state is home to the Rocky Flats site, which for decades was a key part of the nuclear weapons complex," Udall said. "Now, as we work to have Rocky Flats cleaned up and closed, we also need to take care of the people who worked there and at similar sites. They were part of our country's defense. They may or may not have been exposed to hostile fire, but many were exposed to radiation, beryllium, or other hazards -- and as a result some are seriously ill and others will become ill in the future."

Barrie said he is one of those workers who are already ill but not being compensated for his ailments.

"You know there's always going to be radiation weaponry of some kind," Barrie said. "They need to have some help for these people who ingest hazardous materials. But there's none."

Which is why he and his wife have begun circulating the petition urging McInnis to sign onto the bill.

"This is not just for George," Barrie said. "This is for the people who might get sick or are already sick. That's why Terrie and I are doing this."

Terrie Barrie said she did not understand why the Congressman would not sign onto the bill.

"His staff says the objection is funding," she said. "The Department of Energy is spending over $7 billion per year cleaning up contaminated dirt and buildings at the nuclear weapons plants such as Rocky Flats. Yet helping workers made sick at those sites is too expensive?"

Barrie said he has been fighting insurance companies, the government and his former employer for more than a decade.

An important step in his plight, he said, would be the legislation reforming the compensation act of 2000.

"I don't want pity," he said. "I just want people to understand why a man who is not even 50 is homebound."

Udall said helping people in Barrie's situation is a priority.

"I consider this very important legislation," he said. "It is a personal priority for me, and I intend to do all I can to get it enacted without unnecessary delay."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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