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ANWAG objects to characterization that their work dishonors sick workers

When a government employee accuses people of dishonoring their friends and relatives because they question poor government actions, that employee is usually very misguided, as was the case with Mr. Howie.  In truth, it seems he is attempting to squash all criticism of his program by focusing on the messengers rather than his team’s record of denying health claims of sick workers.    

Members of the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG) are concerned by the statement made by Leonard Howie, III, Director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) in the January 22, 2016 article, “Nuclear workers feel new policy will make it harder to win compensation.”

In response to the advocates’ criticism to one of the guidance documents issued last year by the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC), Mr. Howie stated,

"This is not an adversarial program,” Howie said. “Our goal is to accept as many claims as we can under the law. Any implication to the contrary dishonors the men and women who spent their lives and sacrificed their health in service to this nation, and degrades the dedication shown by our staff every single day to provide compensation and medical benefits for those affected.”

It was a surprise to ANWAG that Mr. Howie feels that concerns and objections about certain policies when raised by the advocates “…dishonor the men and women who spent their lives and sacrificed their health in service to this nation…”

ANWAG is aware that Mr. Howie has only served as OWCP’s director for approximately one year.  Perhaps Mr. Howie is not aware of the pedigree of the majority of the advocates.  The advocates consist of three main groups.

First and foremost, some advocates are former workers.  These workers have developed disabling and possibly fatal diseases because of their exposure to toxic substances while employed at the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons facilities.  Many of these former workers were instrumental in educating Congress back in the late 1990’s on the need to have this compensation program enacted.  These workers, some of whom were quite young when the illness(es) developed, were no longer able to be gainfully employed let alone enjoy the rest of their productive years unaffected by the illness(es).

The second set of advocates – again, some who have advocated before Congress – are the family members of the workers affected.  These are the spouses, the sons, and the daughters of sick and deceased workers.  They are/were on the front line caring for the dedicated workers whose health was compromised by the exposure to toxic substances.  They have seen, first hand, how the poisons their loved ones were exposed to have ruined the worker’s life.  The family members have sat by the worker’s bedside while the worker was dying.  The family members have picked up the worker when they were too weak to stand.  They have held their heads while the effects of chemotherapy wracked the body. 

The last set of advocates are those who have no direct family ties to the workers but have come to know and respect them for their dedication in protecting our country.

None of these advocates would ever dishonor “…the men and women who spent their lives and sacrificed their health in service to this nation…” 

Perhaps, Mr. Howie is unaware of the history behind the advocates’ concern that this directive.  Ten years ago, a memo between the former director of OWCP and the White House Office of Management and Budget surfaced. This memo offered suggestions that would help contain the growth in benefits.  (See the December 7, 2015 blog for the details).

The department has shown disdain for the workers and their plight for many years.  In an edition of the claims examiners’ training manual, this disrespect was evident when fictitious names were used in examples.  The name Freddie Kruger was used for workers and Dr. Hannibal Lecter was used for claimants’ personal physicians.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/manual-made-jokes-about-sick-atomic-workers/

In addition, the Director of DEEOIC stated before the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health that claimants will lie to receive the compensation.  This statement is unjustified by evidence from the program and demonstrates the federal government was responsible for dishonoring the claimant community.

The advocate community has endeavored for years to work with DEEOIC to ensure DEEOIC’s administration of EEOICPA not only meets the intent of congress, but that the workers and their families are treated fairly. 

 
This statement by Gary A. Steinberg, then OWCP Acting Director, acknowledged this work in an email dated May 28, 2014.

 

Thank you for your note regarding the actions from our joint meeting in Denver [on February 20, 2014].  I believe we are all committed to completing the action items in a timely manner.  As we look back to the meeting, we believe it represented a positive step forward in our outreach efforts and intent to have a more open dialogue with you and your colleagues about ways to improve the EEOICPA program.  As my friend Glenn Podonsky put it, the Denver meeting should serve as a “turning the corner” event for the program.  I hope that you share the same sentiments regarding the improvements in communications that we have achieved over the past few years.

 

It is obvious that Mr. Howie is unaware of this collaborative history.  Otherwise, it would be difficult to understand why Mr. Howie would accuse the advocates of working against the injured workers’ best interest.

The advocates will continue to work with DEEOIC to correct errors in the administration of the program regardless of DEEOIC and OWCP’s past actions and misstatements.  This will be especially important before DEEOIC implements any changes to the program.

 

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Is EEOICPA history repeating itself?

I have often been described by supporters as a person who has a wealth of knowledge about the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA).  I guess advocating for 20 years will do that to a person.  After reading the Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC) proposed rule changes, I couldn’t help but remember the infamous OMB passback memo of 2005. 

For those of you who weren’t involved in 2005/2006, there was an exchange of ideas between the former director of DOL’s Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP) and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  The memo offered options that could control the growth in compensation benefits due to the possible expansion of the Special Exposure Cohort.

Chairman John N. Hostettler, Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims held five hearings on this memo.  In his opening statement on March 1, 2006, Congressman Hostettler stated:

“The findings in the law as enacted state in part that, ''since the inception of the nuclear weapons program, a large number of nuclear weapons workers at sites at the Department of Energy and at sites of vendors who supplied the cold war effort were put at risk without their knowledge and consent for reasons that, documents reveal, were driven by fears of adverse publicity, liability, and employee demands for hazardous duty pay. To ensure fairness and equity, the civilian men and women who over the past 50 years have performed duties uniquely related to the nuclear weapons production and testing programs should have efficient, uniform, and adequate compensation for beryllium-related health conditions and radiation-related health conditions.'' That, in fact, was and still is congressional intent. This intent was not created out of speculation, but out of documented proof of the Government's attempt to hide the truth from workers.” (Emphasis added)

I’m not going to go into details about the memo or the hearings.  A good summary of the issue can be found here, http://www.lajicarita.org/07oct.htm, and I provided links to four of the five hearings transcripts at the end of the blog.  I can’t seem to locate the fifth.

My point in resurrecting this issue ten years later is this – is there still a push to control or even reduce the cost of the benefits?  Is the reason to change the date of injury for survivor claims to the date of death an attempt to save money?  Is the reason that multiple impairment ratings can be submitted for one claimant be an attempt to reduce the compensation benefits?

I found this document last night, a letter from the OMB providing guidance to the federal agencies for the FY 2017 Budget, so you tell me.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/memoranda/2015/m-15-11.pdf

“Mandatory Budget Proposals.  Your request for mandatory spending should reflect the same rigorous review as you undertake for discretionary spending.  OMB will work with you over the next several months to identify areas of mandatory spending that merit special scrutiny, including reviewing the mandatory proposals included in the FY 2016 Budget.  Agencies are particularly encouraged to identify new mandatory savings proposals as part of their FY 2017 budget submissions.  In addition, if your budget request includes any new mandatory proposals that are not at least budget neutral, they should be accompanied by new mandatory savings proposals to offset the costs.”

 

 

First Hearing March 1, 2006

http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/judiciary/hju26290.000/hju26290_0f.htm

July 20, 2006 hearing

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-109hhrg28783/pdf/CHRG-109hhrg28783.pdf

November 15, 2006 hearing

http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/judiciary/hju30840.000/hju30840_0f.htm

Dec. 6 2006 hearing

http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/judiciary/hju31312.000/hju31312_0f.htm

 

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Sick workers could be betrayed again!

How many times must the sick nuclear weapons workers or their survivors endure betrayal after betrayal by the government they worked for protecting our country?  The latest injustice comes from the Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC) through their proposed changes to the regulations. 

Deb Jerison of EECAP has written two blogs on the subject so far, http://www.eecap.org/EECAP_blog.htm.  But the changes to the current rules is so extensive that in order for the public to understand the implications there needs to be more than one blog addressing the issues.

However, the changes can be summarized succinctly – an attempt to reduce the costs of the benefits.  It’s that simple.  Why else would DEEOIC want to change the date of injury for survivor claims from the date of the last day of exposure to the date of death of the worker?  If this change goes into effect, the survivors will not be able to recoup any out-of-pocket medical expenses the worker incurred during the illness.  For instance, a worker develops one of the 22 specified cancers but is denied coverage under Part B.  After the worker dies, the site becomes a member of the Special Exposure Cohort.  The survivors are eligible for the monetary compensation of $150,000.00 but would not be able to recoup any of the medical expenses.  Those expenses could be in the thousands and thousands of dollars. 

Another example is the proposal to have multiple impairment rating reports submitted for a worker.  This would allow DEEOIC to choose the lowest rating supplied in order to save money. 

This is wrong.  This is against the intent of the law.  The law was enacted to repay and care for the workers because they were placed in harm’s way without their knowledge or consent. 

A few advocates participated in a listening session with DEEOIC last January about the proposed rules.  According to the invitation, DEEOIC was considering the following broad issues for the proposed changes

  1. Review to process to challenge dose reconstruction at the Final Adjudication Branch

  2. Enhance its ability to efficiently provide appropriate medical care for beneficiaries and to better explain the increased automation of the medical authorization and billing processes.

  3. Modernize the process used to investigate whether medical providers are engaging in appropriate activity and the steps DEEOIC will take to exclude providers when they act in ways that are harmful to the beneficiaries.

  4. Make existing policy decisions more transparent to the public. 

Number 4 is giving the advocates a lot of heartburn, but you can read about that in Deb Jerison’s blog.

We were excited about DEEOIC developing a process to challenge dose reconstructions, but the changes in the proposed rule fell short.  The ability to have a claim returned to NIOSH for rework is still left to the discretion of the hearing officer.  Which means the hearing officer can ignore the objections if he or she wants to.

Numbers 2 and 3 concerned us last year because of the obvious cost-saving aspects.

The advocates offered a few suggestions for DEEOIC to consider before they published the proposed rules.  Some are listed below.

  1. Adopt forms from the Federal Employees Compensation Program to be used for durable medical equipment claims.

  2. Add another step in the claims appeal process by allowing a claimant the opportunity to have the objections heard by an Administrative Law Judge.

  3. Revise Section 30.111 and remove the requirement that the claimant must provide the preponderance of the evidence for each and every aspect of the claim.  The reason for this is that it is often impossible for a claimant to provide the preponderance of evidence of exposure.  DOE did not monitor for many of the toxic substances.

So far, I have not seen that DEEOIC adopted any of these suggestions and that is so very sad.  Suggestion #1 was an easy one to adopt.  It would save time for the physicians and the suppliers and it’s a form accepted by the Office of Workers Compensation Programs, so why not? 

If DEEOIC is unwilling to accept such a simple suggestion what is the likelihood that they will accept the recommendations provided by the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health?  I’m sure that will be the subject for a future blog once the board is finally seated.

These proposed rules are a travesty.  I join Deb Jerison and EECAP in her call to DEEOIC to withdraw this rule making.

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Federal lawsuit filed to protect Hanford workers

On this Labor Day, it is appropriate to send a heartfelt thanks to Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge, http://www.hanfordchallenge.org/,and Pete Nicacio, Business Manager for United Association of Steamfitters and Plumbers, Local 598 for taking action on behalf of the Hanford workers who have been exposed to toxic vapor at the infamous Tank Farms, http://kng5.tv/1Nb7lHB. Over the past year, more than 50 Hanford workers were needlessly exposed to sometimes unidentified toxic substances during the course of their employment. The State of Washington warned the Department of Energy (DOE) last year that steps must be taken to protect the workers. But as recently as last month, the warning failed as additional workers were exposed. Attorney General Ferguson said “Enough is enough,” Hanford Challenge and Local 598 filed separate lawsuits in federal court to force DOE and their Hanford Contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), to end the decades-long unnecessary worker exposures. The lawsuits ask the court for a number of actions including: •Immediately institute protective measures for the workers •Timely implementation of the recommendations and changes detailed in the 2014 Hanford Tank Vapor Assessment Team Report. Comprehensive medical monitoring for past and present Hanford Workers. •Communication of complete information about exposure incidents to workers and the public. The Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups applauds this unprecedented action. DOE issued a statement, http://bit.ly/1PXcn80, stating that they are committed to protecting the employees and are working with WRPS to address the exposures at the Tank Farms. I hope this is not just lip-service from DOE. The workers must be protected. DOE must ensure that their contractors, not only at Hanford but at all of their facilities, abide by all the safety and health regulations that are designed to keep their workforce safe from unnecessary exposures. Thanks again to the State of Washington, Hanford Challenge and Local 598 for stepping up to the plate on behalf of the Hanford workers.
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Document proves Rocky Flats workers told the truth about site conditions

People have shared many documents with me over the years.  All have been important to one degree or another.  Sometimes there is only one phrase or sentence in a fifty or a hundred paged document that will provide a scintilla of information that will send me off on a search.  That happened with the Rocky Flats SEC petition 0192.  Originally, it was the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Division of Compensation and Analysis Support (DCAS) position that there was no production of neptunium production that occurred at Rocky Flats.  It took a little bit, but I found a couple of documents, complete with pictures, which detailed the neptunium production at Rocky Flats.  That evidence helped expand the Special Exposure Cohort to 12/31/1983.

This document, http://bit.ly/1LSCsXr, however, contains the richest information that may help the Rocky Flats claimants under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).  It is an audit conducted in 1988 on the safety and health issues in a variety of Buildings at Rocky Flats and reported to the Rockwell International’s Rocky Flats Plant Manager, Dominic Sanchini. This document should be able to help with the SEC petition and also Part E claims.  Many thanks to Eco-Ed, Inc., for providing this important document and to Deb Jerison for posting this. 

I remember during the first SEC petition, #0030, many workers came forward and told NIOSH and the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health that air monitors were recalibrated so that alarms would not sound frequently.  Allow me to cite a few sentences that may help the SEC petition.

Page 3 -

”Neutron criticality detectors are not calibrated, and the stickers found on some of them are not readable. (Rad . Instr. personnel state that a calibration program is in development).”

 

Radiation instrumentation personnel state that one to two times daily, a selective alpha air monitor is found in the building with an improper setting, greatly increasing the level of radiation required to sound the alarm.”

Page 6 –

“Selective alpha air monitors are found with improper setting; without airflow, without adequate airflow, without airflow indicator lines, and in one case installed adjacent to an open emergency chemical shower.”

 

“Eight items of radiation instrumentation are found with calibration and airflow problems. Alpha mets are found without probe holders.”

 

Page 7 –

 

“Large areas of gloveboxes ports are unprotected by lead shields. On at least one glovebox containing shields, the inward slant of the bottom of the box and hinging of the shields on the upper side of the ports result in shields which will not stay closed.”

 

 

 

Page 10 –

 

“A selective alpha air monitor is found with indication of inadequate air-flow.”

 

“Four air sampling heads are observed without filters.”

 

Do you get the idea?  And this is only the first ten pages.  It is my opinion that if the monitoring equipment was calibrated incorrectly the radiation control technicians and health physics personnel would not know if there was a serious contamination and those potentially exposed workers may not have been bioassayed. 

 

This document is also important for Rocky Flats Part E claims.  The Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC) requires that claimants provide evidence “… of exposure pathways in addition to evidence indicating the intensity, frequency and duration of such exposure(s) (see 17 (C) http://1.usa.gov/1vFrJbs). This evidentiary requirement is almost impossible for the claimant or a personal physician to satisfy.” (DEEOIC Interim Advisory Board http://bit.ly/1AG1TRT)

 

As you will see from the examples below, even Rockwell International management did not always know what was present. 

 

Page 2 –

 

“…long term employee exposure to unlabeled possibly contaminated waste…”

 

“…contractor personnel find that Rockwell personnel are placing bags of unlabelled and unmonitored waste in a contractor construction area after hours…”

 

Page 4 –

 

“Containers for waste, chemicals and liquids are found throughout without labels and without lids.”

 

Page 9 –

 

Drums of chemicals, adhesives, lubricants, alcohol, sulfuric acid and unidentified liquids are observed left outside with poor labelling and without labelling.”

 

Page 19 –

 

“As observed in other areas, labelling of chemicals, process materials and solvents is inconsistent. Some labels were handwritten or typed years ago and are difficult to read. Hazard labelling is spotty or non-existent. Some areas have unlabelled filled containers. One bottle with a marker label "OX

OUT ACID CONTENT” is found sitting in spill of a green liquid in a cupboard under a process drain. A bottle in a janitors' closet reads, “CONTAINS BERYLLIUM .”

 

Page 27 –

 

“Noxious fumes emanate from a distillation system in Rm. 224, causing discomfort in the proximity of the equipment; no hood requirement exists, no cover, no hazard label.”

 

“Chemical bottles in some hoods have faded labels and are not legible.”

 

What really saddens me is that workers have relayed all of this information to the agencies.  Their testimony was discounted because there was no “proof”.  I hope this document provides them with some vindication.  It is so ironic that these workers were provided with top security clearance yet their word is doubted by the agencies.

 

I have no idea if similar documents exist for other sites or if the issues identified at Rocky Flats was common to all sites.  But DCAS and DEEOIC need to rethink their position on Rocky Flats.   It is obvious that policies and procedures were not always followed at Rocky Flats.  It doesn’t matter, at this point, whether the violations were because production was placed over safety concerns or some workers were not properly trained.  What matters is that claimants from the Rocky Flats site be provided with an honest and fair consideration of the SEC petition and Part E claims.

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Every breath you take

Today, I circulated this article published in the Dayton Daily Press, “Billions Paid to Sickened Energy Plant Workers” http://bit.ly/1GhwuMt.  It was less than an hour after I emailed this article before I received a call from a Rocky Flats claimant.  Mind you, the call came in on Sunday morning.  His greeting was, “You can blame DOL for my death when I die.” 

Naturally, I was upset and asked what was wrong.  He told me that he has been waiting for two months for the Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (DEEOIC) to approve his necessary oxygen therapy equipment.  Two months!!  This claimant took exception to this statement made by DEEOIC,

It can be really hard for them to breathe,” Leiton said of beryllium disease. “They need oxygen, medications and to be monitored. It can be real tough for them.”

He said he wakes up in the middle of the night with problems breathing. If DEEOIC understands the need for claimants to have oxygen to breathe because of their covered disease, why is this worker still waiting  for this lifesaving equipment?

Back in October of 2013, DEEOIC issued a Final Bulletin on how claims for durable medical equipment (DME) would be processed.  This directive not only addressed items such as wheel chairs and hospital beds but also the equipment necessary to provide the very essence of life – oxygen – was subjected to this very complicated process.

A few months after this bulletin was released, I and other advocates received numerous complaints from claimants about the problems they were experiencing with having their oxygen equipment paid for by DEEOIC.  These claimants had been approved for years under the program and never once had a problem.  Claimants told me DEEOIC denied their previously approved equipment, with some claimants relating that the supply companies were forced to bill the claimant for thousands of dollars because DEEOIC found that the rationalization by the physician was inadequate.  Other claimants told me they just decided to let Medicare pay for this equipment because they didn’t have the strength to fight the system. 

Two months ago, the advocates had their second annual meeting with the federal agencies responsible for the program.  One advocate suggested that DEEOIC develop a form for durable medical equipment, similar to what is used for the Black Lung and Federal Employees Compensation programs.

Black lung certificate of medical necessity http://systems.acs-shc.com/DOL-PROD-DOC/CM-893.pdf

FECA form http://systems.acs-shc.com/DOL-PROD-DOC/DME_form_011205.pdf

That idea was rejected and instead this Final Bulletin was issued last month by DEEOIC, http://1.usa.gov/1KeucQJ

I understand DEEOIC needs to be vigilant and prevent fraudulent charges under the program and I applaud their efforts. But we’re talking about equipment that supplies oxygen to workers with lung damage. 

These workers have been diagnosed with a lung condition like chronic beryllium disease or silicosis and who have been accepted by DEEOIC that these conditions were the result of their work place exposures.  It should not be necessary for a personal physician to write a fully rationalized opinion on why the worker needs oxygen.  A simple form as mentioned above could supply the claims examiner the relevant documentation that the worker needs the oxygen deliver system. 

These workers are not scamming the system. DEEOIC already determined that. They are sick.  They have a firm diagnosis of a lung condition and have been accepted by DEEOIC.  They are sick and should not need to worry about whether they will receive the medical equipment and services needed to sustain life and improve its quality.

I urge DEEOIC to revise its policy and make it simpler and quicker for claimants to have their medical necessities approved.  It should not take months to approval.  There should be no delays.

 

 

 

Comments (1)

Welcome 2015 - I think!

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy New Year!

I am excited about new advisory board to the Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC).  It’s been a tough road for the advocates for the Department of Energy’s sick nuclear weapons workers.  I remember one year, must have been 2010 or 2011, Cold War Patriots held an advocates meeting in the D.C. area.  One of the activities was to visit Congress to urge them to include the Udall/Alexander legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  This legislation has always been the vehicle for EEOICPA.  We were split into groups so that we could reach as many congressional offices as possible.  I remember running into one group of advocates after our first meeting of the day.  They informed me that there would be no amendments attached to NDAA that year.  I was not a happy camper.  But I figured this is how legislation works.  You never get it on the first try.  We needed to educate Congress better.

Cold War Patriots and advocates continued to visit Congress since 2010 explaining the dire need for such an advisory board.  In 2013, we came “this” close to getting the amendment attached to NDAA.  It came down to the wire but the amendment was rejected because an offset to fund the board could not be found.  To say that I, and maybe some other advocates who worked so hard on this issue, was devastated would be an understatement.  The congressional staffers I worked with did their best and promised to try again in 2014.

The legislators kept that promise.  Again, Senators Mark Udall and Lamar Alexander and Congressmen   Ed Whitfield, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis championed the cause of the sick workers or their survivors.  While it also came down to the wire again, they were successful in convincing the other responsible offices for NDAA (House and Senate Armed Services Committees, for example) on the need for this advisory board.  To those individuals involved in making this happen, you have my deepest appreciation.

Yes, the claimants now have the board legislated.  This board will advise DEEOIC on the Site Exposure Matrix (SEM,) which should include reviewing the health effects of toxic exposure, review of Part B lung claims, provide medical guidance to the claims examiners and review the DOL expert reports to ensure quality and consistency.  It’s great!  As I said, I’m excited.  There are so many qualified and knowledgeable people who are fair in their judgments but who are also committed to seeing this compensation program administered as Congress intended who can serve on the board.  I cannot wait to see President Obama’s appointments.

Unfortunately, unlike the benefits provided claimants and administrative costs to adjudicate claims under EEOICPA or even the board that offers advice on dose reconstruction and Special Exposure Cohort petitions, funding for the DEEOIC board is not mandatory.  Funds need to be appropriated every year. ANWAG and DIAB sent letters to DOL this week requesting that sufficient funds be requested in their budget.  Other advocacy groups will be sending similar letters.  Anybody interest in a bake sale? (This is not my original ideaJ).

The downside already for 2015 is what happened in the House today.  I don’t fully understand the procedure except that I know that the effects of this rule could/will reduce the benefits a disabled worker receives from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) by 20%, http://www.offthechartsblog.org/house-rule-could-hurt-vulnerable-disability-beneficiaries/

Many of the sick DOE workers are on SSDI because they are no longer able to work because of the diseases they developed from working daily in the toxic soup at the nuclear weapons facilities and they are unable to qualify for EEOICPA compensation. The ANWAG blog from June 22, 2014 mentions my recollection of how the wage loss amounts were developed ten years earlier. 

One of the meetings I had was with Former Congressman Kurt Weldon’s Chief of Staff, Russ Casso.  I grew up in the Congressman’s district and my parents still lived there.  So I felt comfortable talking with him.  I was on “home-turf” so to speak.  I gave a brief account of George’s many diseases and conditions to Mr. Casso, and the history of his state workers’ compensation claim.

Mr. Casso asked how much money George received from SSDI.  I told him.  Mr. Casso asked how much money George would have received if he was successful with his workers’ compensation claim.  I told him.  The difference between those two amounts is the basis for the wage loss benefits legislated in the reform bill of 2004.

I can only speak to the SSDI claimants who worked at the DOE sites – what the House did today is deplorable, especially for those workers who were denied wage loss. Reducing the paltry sum these sick and dying workers receive under SSDI is an affront to the commitment these workers made to our country.

In addition, retirees from the Rocky Flats and Oak Ridge facilities have had their insurance policies changed.  I have heard reports where, despite DOE’s past assurances,  the health insurance premiums will increase, sometimes to the extent that the premiums are too exorbitant and the life-saving medication placed out of reach for those on SSDI.

These workers’ lives were sacrificed by working to keep America safe during the Cold War without their knowledge or consent.  We must never forget that.  All must be done to compensate them fairly and not deny them what was promised.

I look forward to the DEEOIC advisory board.  I am hopeful that funding will be located to have the members start as soon as they are seated.

I am not looking forward to the future fight for SSDI benefits.  Reducing these benefits is wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

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Historical moment for Hanford workers - Multiple organizations to sue DOE and Hanford Contractor to protect Hanford workers

We are witnessing a historical moment.  Never before has an intent to sue the Department of Energy (DOE) and its Hanford contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) been filed to protect the health and welfare of the nuclear weapons workers.

Last Spring and at different times, over 20 Hanford workers were exposed to toxic vapors at Hanford's tank farms.  Seattle's King 5 television station's investigative reporter, Susannah Frame provided continuous coverage of these incidents.  I believe this investigative report was instrumental in Hanford's decision to invite a group of experts from DOE's Savannah River Site to investigate the problem.

The report, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1349259-hanford-tvat-report-2014-10-30-final.html, is highly critical of Hanford's safety practices.  Of course DOE and WRPS issued statements that they really care about the health and safety of their workers and will review the report and implement changes necessary to protect the workers.

Apparently, the Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, has heard this all before.  Yesterday he filed an intent to sue DOE and WRPS. The letter states, "...Washington is prepared to seek injunctive relief requiring Energy and WRPS to timely abate the conditions presenting the actual or potential imminent and substantial endangerment..." 

You can read the full letter to DOE and WRPS here, http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/hanford/2014/11/19/hanford-vapors-attorney-general-bob-ferguson-washington/19272283/

This is huge!  But it gets better for the workers.  Today, more groups came forward to protect the workers.  Hanford Challenge, United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 598 and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility announced their intent to sue DOE and WRPS to ensure the protection the Hanford workers deserve are provided to them as quickly as possible,

http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/hanford/2014/11/20/hanford-safety-steamfitters-physicians-lawsuit/70019542/

ANWAG salutes King5 television station and reporter Susannah Frame for exposing this problem to the public.  A heartfelt thanks is offered to Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, Hanford Challenge, United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 598 and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility for taking action to ensure that the recommendations provided the Savannah River Site experts will be implemented in a timely manner.

And many, many thanks to the Hanford workers for coming forward and revealing the problems they encounter.

The health and safety of the workers must be the number one priority at DOE facilities.  We can no longer afford to have these people placed in harms' way.  There are ways to protect them from exposures and those methods must be employed immediately.  Not just at Hanford, but at Los Alamos, Y-12, Pantex, and other DOE sites.


 





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How do the advocates know what Congress wanted for sick nuclear weapons workers?

You will often read in ANWAG letters, blogs and press releases that the advocates want the Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation to administer the program according to the original intent of Congress.  How do we know what Congress intended?  Because many of us educated Congress about the problems the sick nuclear weapons workers faced in the states’ workers compensation program. 

Advocates started this education in the late 1990’s, which resulted in the passage of the legislation and again in 2004 when it was realized that workers still couldn’t get a fair shake at the state level (plus the Department of Energy (DOE) was doing a horrendous job with the claims process.)

Janet Michel and I would like to share some personal history with you to explain why we know what this legislation was meant to be.  Janet’s blog can be found here http://bit.ly/1pDMP4Q. 

My husband was sick from the day I met him almost 26 years ago.  We just didn’t realize the cause until seven years later.  In our naivety, George decided to file for workers compensation.  After all, he had the incident report showing he ingested and inhaled plutonium and americium.  His termination papers showed systemic burdens of radioactivity in his bones, lungs and kidneys.  What more could one ask for. 

Despite these documents, we could not find an attorney to represent him against the Department of Energy.  But because of these documents my family, friends and co-workers urged him to move forward with me as his authorized representative.    Needless to say we were blown out of the water - although I did manage to get a Rocky Flats’ expert witness to state, under oath, that a person can drink a cup of plutonium without having any adverse health effects.  Unfortunately, I assumed that the judge would understand that this was a false statement and would award George his compensation.  We were so naïve.

But a few years later we found hope.  In an unprecedented statement, then DOE Secretary, Bill Richardson, apologized to the nuclear weapons workers for placing them in harms’ way without their knowledge and for reimbursing their contractors when the contractors contested workers’ compensation claims for occupational illnesses. Yippee!!  George was finally going to receive what he deserved and needed (it was a little tough having a sick husband with no income or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and raising two teenagers.)

Secretary Richardson detailed Undersecretary David Micheals to travel to the major DOE sites on a fact finding mission.  One of those locations was for the Rocky Flats workers.  I don’t remember exactly how we were put in touch, but Jeff Egan from DOE, urged us to attend.  We live 200 miles away from Denver.  We had a semi-reliable vehicle and decided to attend.  But then we watched the weather and a blizzard was heading our way.  I called Jeff and explained and again he urged us to take the chance on the drive. 

Fortunately, we beat the storm.  After we gave our 5 minute public comment (2 ½ minutes each) we headed back to our seats.  We were followed by Jeff Egan and Kate Kimpan, also with DOE.  They told us how powerful our statement was and how the proposed legislation was written “just for George” so that his multiple conditions would be covered. 

We believed them. 

Along with advocates and sick workers (unknown to me at the time) from other areas of the country, letters were written to Congress and the media.  Calls were made by friends and family.  The advocacy paid off and EEOICPA was passed in 2000.  The sick workers would finally receive similar compensation that a worker who broke his leg at work would receive.  Wage loss, medical care and impairment.

Anyone who has been involved with the program in the early years knows what a fiasco Part D, administered by the Department of Energy, was.  George was one of the lucky ones to have his claim processed under Part D, but he was approved for only one condition and that was only after an appeal.

By that time, legislation was again before Congress, this time to reform EEOICPA.  I made my first trip to Washington, DC in 2004.  If you have never been to visit Congressional offices, let me tell you, it’s tough.  Most times the meetings last no more than 20 minutes.  You have to be prepared to explain the situation concisely and allow enough time for a short discussion.  

One of the meetings I had was with Former Congressman Kurt Weldon’s Chief of Staff, Russ Casso.  I grew up in the Congressman’s district and my parents still lived there.  So I felt comfortable talking with him.  I was on “home-turf” so to speak.  I gave a brief account of George’s many diseases and conditions to Mr. Casso, and the history of his state workers’ compensation claim.

Mr. Casso asked how much money George received from SSDI.  I told him.  Mr. Casso asked how much money George would have received if he was successful with his workers’ compensation claim.  I told him.  The difference between those two amounts is the basis for the wage loss benefits legislated in the reform bill of 2004.

Ironically and disturbingly, DEEOIC denied George his wage loss claim despite the fact that three letters by two different personal physicians affirmed that he cannot work because of his one and only covered condition.  But that’s a whole other blog.

Because of the advocacy work, Congress was well aware of the problems the sick workers or their survivors faced in obtaining the compensation they deserved. Congress intended to correct the injustice.  Congress wanted these workers to receive fair treatment.  The legislations show this.  We need to get this program back on track and compensate these sick workers as Congress intended.

 

 

 

 

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Rocky Flats was just a "fancy machine shop". Oh, really??

June 6 will be the 25th anniversary of the FBI raiding Rocky Flats for alleged environmental crimes.  The Arvada Center for the Arts is holding a free, three day event commemorating this event.  http://arvadacenter.org/on-stage/rocky-flats-then-and-now-2014

In anticipation of this event, the Denver Post published an article on Sunday http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25874064/feds-raided-rocky-flats-25-years-ago-signaling

I am honored to participate in one panel discussion regarding the worker health issue.  So, I was kind of excited about the publicity.  That is until I read this paragraph

 "Rocky Flats was nothing but a fancy machine shop ... in what was then the middle of nowhere. But we had machining capabilities that nobody else had," said Scott Surovchak, Rocky Flats legacy site manager for the Department of Energy."

Really, Mr. Surovchak?    Just a fancy machine shop?  Do you know what Rocky Flats did for 50 years?

I stewed over this statement all day.  I was furious.  Then the former workers from Rocky Flats and other nuclear weapons sites started emailing me their thoughts on this statement and I decided to write this blog.

Yes, Rocky Flats machined components for a nuclear weapon.  In fact, for those of you who are not familiar with nuclear weapons, they machined the actual plutonium pit.  But the activities at Rocky Flats didn’t stop at machining parts.  There were chemical processes to retrieve the valuable radioactive materials from waste products.  For instance there was a molten salt extraction process to recover americium from Plutonium 241, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1980-0117.ch032.  In the early years there was also a foundry in Building 881. This foundry “cast enriched uranium into spherical shapes that were sent directly to machining.” http://www.lm.doe.gov/land/sites/co/rocky_flats/HAER/base/Buildings/881.htm. 

If the statement that Rocky Flats was just a fancy machine shop, I have to ask, what respectable machine shop would not have a Criticality Lab?  Yup, the Rocky Flats fancy machine shop had one.  http://oralhistory.boulderlibrary.org/interview/oh1179/

This statement does a great disservice to the thousands of women and men who worked not only at Rocky Flats but at all of the nuclear weapons facilities.  It trivializes the serious and dangerous work performed by the dedicated employees during the Cold War.

I was a bit hesitant in writing this blog.  Am I sure I want to stir things up right before the Arvada Center’s event?  Will this jeopardize the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG) and DEEOIC Interim Advisory Board (DIAB) working relationship with DOE?  Was it possible that the reporter misstated Mr. Surovchak’s  statement or took it out of context?

As I said, earlier, I received a number of replies from the former workers.  The one that convinced me that this blog needed to be written came from Mr. Maurice Copeland.  Mr. Copeland is a former worker from the Kansas City Plant and DIAB Board member.  He is also the petitioner to have that site included in the Special Exposure Cohort.  He emailed me and stated that the Deputy Site Manager referred to the Kansas City Plant “as just another manufacturing plant.”  Did a memo go out directing the site managers to minimize to the public the type of work performed at these sites and the possible impact? 

In 1999, then Secretary Bill Richardson acknowledged and apologized for the harm done to the workers at these facilities.  Is DOE reverting to denying – or at least play down – the serious issues surrounding this program? 

I’m a sick nuclear weapons worker advocate and obviously I take this responsibility as seriously as a mother bear protecting her cubs.  There is also the environmental issue involving these sites.  There are plenty of dedicated advocates for those problems.  If we are going to face the problems the sick workers and the communities face in order to resolve them the federal government needs to be honest and open.  It’s that simple. 

 

 

 

 

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