Terrie Barrie: ‘More must be done’
December 28, 2011
What if there was a federal law that promised to take care of people who were poisoned by working at a government facility?
What if the lead agency requires the equivalent of waterboarding to approve a claim for a covered disease?
What if the lead agency allowed derogatory names to be used in a training manual for claimants or their doctors?
What if, two months after an apology and a promise to do better by that particular agency, an agency employee refers to a claimant's physician as a "quack?"
What if this agency approves one claimant for a disease but denies a co-worker with the same disease who worked next to the approved claimant?
What if this agency ignores nationally renowned, top medical experts' testimonies in favor of their own handpicked physicians?
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What if this agency ignores a letter from members of Congress, which explains how Congress expects the program to be implemented?
What if this agency ignores its own medical director's advice to the extent that the medical director resigns in protest?
What if the federal department responsible for administering the program's medical benefits continued to do everything in its power to delay and deny in-home nursing to the beneficiaries who are entitled to the help, as ordered by their physicians?
What if a supporting agency says it is not inappropriate for the person who wrote the final rules for the program to have the responsibility of guiding the advisory board?
What if the supporting agency obfuscated to the advisory board about a document that would affect whether claimants would be covered without delay?
What if the supporting agency hired a contractor that had been historically responsible for maintaining the safety and health of the workers to reconstruct what happened at the facility?
What if the supporting agency allows a contractor to bill the government for maintaining records and also allows this contractor to bill the government for requesting these same records?
These above questions are all true about the historic program that was designed to compensate nuclear weapons workers for diseases that are the result of their daily exposure to deadly toxic substances, including radiation, heavy metals and solvents.
This historical and compassionate legislation is the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000.
This legislation was enacted because since the 1940s these workers who helped keep America safe during World War II and the Cold War had been denied the basic compensation available to the carpenter who fell off a roof and broke his arm.
The Department of Energy historically reimbursed its contractors of these nuclear weapons facilities to contest the claims for occupational diseases. These diseases are not restricted to cancer from radiation exposures, but also include lung diseases from inhaling beryllium and heavy metal dusts, neurological diseases from exposure to solvents, and heavy metals to gastrointestinal diseases as the result of ingesting radioactive materials and carcinogenic solvents.
The workers and their survivors rejoiced 11 years ago.
This was an end of an era of lies and denials and the beginning of an age of openness and accountability. These workers were promised they would receive the same consideration for workers' compensation as their brothers and sisters received in the private sector.
This is a good law.
Granted, there are a few sections that can be clarified, but overall this legislation would allow these dedicated and patriotic workers to receive the just and fair compensation due to them.
That was until the agencies wrote the Final Rules.
The agencies bastardized the intent of Congress and interpreted the statute to benefit the agencies rather than the damaged workers. They said radiation and chemicals do not interact despite valid scientific evidence to the contrary.
This was done despite Congress stating during the rule-making process that radiation needs to be regarded as a contributory factor.
The agencies said Congress really didn't mean an evaluation report needs to be submitted within 180 days, even though the law specifically states that it does.
What went wrong?
The Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups doesn't know. All we know is that Congress intended these workers to receive medical, wage loss and impairment compensation for the illnesses they developed while working to protect our country. For too many workers, this is not happening.
Again, ANWAG calls for a full investigation of this program by Congress, an investigation that will require all agency heads be called on the carpet for these and other violations of the act. We call on Congress to act and act now.
ANWAG sincerely thanks and honors those few members who have stepped up to the plate and supported these workers this year.
But, more must be done.
Terrie Barrie is a Craig resident and founding member of the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 824-2260.