Our view: Nuclear plant workers fighting the good fight

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Craig resident Terrie Barrie never cared much for politics.

But because of her husband's failing health, she been forced to learn how to maneuver inside the political system to try to affect change.

She joined the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups, who are fighting to get the government to live up to a commitment to overhaul a compensation program for weapons plant workers who got sick building nuclear bombs.

Her husband, George Barrie, is one of them. He went to work at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant as a machinist in 1980. Eight years into his job, he began suffering from a variety of maladies. Since then, he's been diagnosed with 30 illnesses.

The Senate passed an amendment to the Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, which would have the government pay claims to sick workers directly rather than reimbursing Department of Energy contractors to do it. But the Bush administration and House members appear reluctant to support the Senate measure.

"This amendment is so important for the more than 24,000 sick workers who have waited more than four years to see whether the Department of Energy could handle its part of the law," Barrie said.

According to the Associated Press, administration officials point to a statement by the White House Budget Office citing concerns that a change would create an unworkable process, cause more delays, increase costs and expand the program's scope.

But when you consider how much money the federal government is spending on defense, it seems unfair for the government to drag its feet supporting nuclear workers.

"These are our Cold War veterans," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "They were working in an environment that they thought was safe. It wasn't safe."

Terrie Barrie just returned from Washington, D.C., where she lobbied members of the House to support the Senate amendment. She was disappointed that she did not get to speak with U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colorado Springs, who sits on the Armed Services Committee. Hefley is officially "neutral," but he's the only member of Colorado's House delegation who is not supporting the amendment. He's a central figure in the fight, because the proposed changes must emerge from the committee to get a full vote in the House.

Reps. Scott McInnis, Tom Tancredo, Mark Udall, Diana DeGette, Bob Beauprez and Marilyn Musgrave have all come out in support of the amendment.

If you support Barrie's fight to get health benefits for workers who became ill because of service to their country, contact Hefley's Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-4422.

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