Nuclear workers' advocate victorious

Terrie Barrie had lobbied Congress in mid-September

After spending at least eight hours a day lobbying for federal help for sick nuclear workers, Terrie Berrie was happy to spend Monday morning writing a thank-you letter to her friends and neighbors who helped her win her battle.

On Saturday, the Craig woman's years of effort paid off when Congress voted to overhaul a compensation plan for sick workers from nuclear bomb factories such as Rocky Flats.

For the past several years, Terrie Barrie has been working with a network of nuclear worker advocates from across the nation to get federal funding for the 24,000 workers who, like her husband, George Barrie, got sick after they were exposed to radiation while making weapons during the Cold War.

"This is exactly what the workers needed," Barrie said.

George Barrie suffers from 30 illnesses, including pre-cancerous conditions and bone diseases. Terrie was in Washington, D.C., as recently as mid-September to lobby for worker compensation.

The overhaul means George Barrie won't have to pay his medical claims through worker's compensation programs as he fights insurance companies for his money, Terrie Barrie said. Nor will he have to wait interminably for the U. S. Department of Energy to process his claim.

That department was in charge of processing the claims of workers who, like George, suffer precancerous conditions. It has paid only 31 workers who suffer precancerous conditions, but it has spent $95 million doing so.

By voting to overhaul the program, Congress will move the processing of claims such as George's from the Department of Energy to the Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor has handled the claims of workers with cancer for years, and the department has approved 95 percent of the claims it has received.

Terrie Barrie and other nuclear worker advocates hope the Department of Labor will demonstrate the same diligence in processing the claims of the workers who have waited so long for decisions from the Department of Energy.

The new program also provides aid for uranium workers who got sick while mining.

Each member of Colorado's Congressional delegation voted for the plan, including Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colorado Springs. Until recently, Hefley had been neutral on the issue.

The plan awaits President Bush's approval.

In May, the Bush administration issued a statement of administration policy opposing the change.

Congress passed the plan as part of the defense authorization bill. Terrie Barrie said she doubted that Bush would veto the plan, because it was part of the bill.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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