WASHINGTON, April 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department (MTD) is calling for congressional oversight hearings to investigate the failure of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP) to provide adequate benefits to nuclear weapons workers and survivors victimized by radiation or exposure to toxic agents in their work environment. MTD President Ron Ault charged that the program--designed to compensate the victims of nuclear exposure in Department of Energy nuclear research and development projects from the mid-
1940s through the present-- has:
"It's shameful to see how the highest ideals of the sponsors of this legislation have been hijacked by a bureaucracy intent on evading responsibility and avoiding justice," declared Metal Trades Department President Ron Ault. "Congress directed that the government should provide equity and relief to the workers who became sick as a result of their service to the nation during a time of national need. Instead, the bureaucracy has built a maze of rules and arbitrary barriers designed to frustrate legitimate claims."
"During the era of the Cold War, thousands of men and women worked selflessly, putting what they were told was the national interest ahead of their personal health and safety. Many of these workers never were told of the dangers they faced. And, because of strict secrecy and classification standards, they never even disclosed to their families what they were doing. Furthermore, also out of secrecy concerns, much of this work was compartmentalized, creating additional confusion over what types of exposures and risks these workers encountered during their careers. Now, after the crisis has passed, and many of these same workers have become chronically ill--and many have died as a result of their exposures-- we ask: What kind of country would turn its back on them and their survivors? We implore Congress to revisit this legislation and take the necessary steps to make sure that these workers are not neglected, and their contributions are not forgotten," Ault said.
Since this legislation was enacted eight years ago, the program has wasted at least one-third of the money that Congress provided on overhead and administrative costs while splintering adjudication and administration among a number of federal entities. While the program has paid out some $3.5 billion in benefits--and at least $1 billion in administrative costs--there remain hundreds if not thousands of unpaid, lost and derailed claims languishing in file boxes in the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The program has been crippled from the outset. Initially, DOE told Congress it expected 3,000 claims under the new law. Within two years after enactment, some 40,000 claims had been received and DOE had made only one award.
According to an investigation conducted for the MTD by Sheldon W. Samuels of the Ramazzini Institute and Drexel University's School of Public Health, the Department of Energy had run up a woeful record of failures in administering the program in its first three years of life -- failing to work with state workers compensation commissions; hiring merely one part-time physician on staff and 100 contract physicians to review cases-- when it needed a minimum of 500; developing a helter-skelter system for reviewing and processing claims; hiring an unqualified contractor under a no-bid contract to set up its electronic data system; dismissing its advisory committee of workers' compensation experts after the committee criticized DOE's operations; and overspending on administrative costs fourfold.
The operations of other agencies with responsibilities under the act as amended to repair DOE's failure in 2004 were not much better. NIOSH was assigned to assess radiation exposure claims. It has only recently begun to update biomedical data originally developed from studies of veterans exposed to radiation during atomic tests in the 1940s and 50s and cancer-related deaths among Japanese survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even
the DOL was appalled by the work NIOSH was doing in processing EEOICP claims, sending some two-thirds of the claims NIOSH processed back for re-work. An audit of NIOSH processes found some 14.5 percent of claims it handled were erroneously rejected.
The union found many survivors who have applied for benefits have been told that they must produce medical and other records in order to prevail--records from 20 to 30 years ago. Virtually all workers involved with nuclear weapons research and development were sworn to secrecy about their work--forbidden to discuss it with spouses or family members. Consequently, many legitimate survivor claimants may not even know they are eligible, the union said.
Responsibility for administering benefits for former nuclear weapons workers originally had been split between the Department of Energy and the Department of Labor, with DOE assuming responsibility for "toxic illnesses" and DOL handling conditions specifically related to exposure from beryllium, silicosis and radiation. In 2004, the amended act gave NIOSH responsibility for radiation dose reconstruction. The Metal Trades Department has charged that the agencies have adopted processes that shift an impossible burden of proof on many claimants: finding records that were never made or were never accurate, or no longer exist.
SOURCE Metal Trades Department AFL-CIO