Workers union president David Fuller says he would like to see changes in the appeals process for denied claims and eligibility of survivors.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
Union Carbide and Martin Marietta — former contractors who operated the plant for DOE — will be instructed not to protest state compensation claims that DOE determines are valid, according to Kate Kimpan of DOE's new Department of Worker Advocacy.
"Historically, DOE denied illness claims ... but all of that has changed," Kimpan said Tuesday at a public meeting to outline a federal compensation program for sick workers. She also that workers not eligible for the federal program may qualify for state compensation, which would pay lost wages and medical expenses.
"There are toxic illnesses that aren't cancer and aren't covered under the federal program," she said, adding that one of the jobs of the new DOE agency is to help an employees determine the source of an illness.
A resource center operated by DOE and the U.S. Department of Labor is expected to open on Memorial Drive near Paducah Community College within two weeks. Walter Perry, a DOE spokesman, said a lease was signed on Monday and telephones and other equipment are being installed.
The center will help current and former employees, and survivors of former workers, to file claims not only for the new federal program approved by Congress last year but state worker compensation claims.
About 450 people attended the two meetings held at the Julian Carroll Convention Center. Most listened to hourlong presentations made by officials of the Departments of Energy and Labor. Most of the time was consumed with an explanation of the federal program that will managed by the Department of Labor.
Labor will begin accepting applications on July 31. Claims filed in Paducah will be processed in its Jacksonville, Fla., office, according to Roberta Mosier of the department's workers' compensation office.
"Right now, we aren't sure how long it will take to process the claims," she said. Employees are being hired to process the claims.
Current and former workers and some survivors of workers will be eligible to receive a $150,000 lump-sum benefit if they have been diagnosed with specific types of cancer. The program "assumes" that the cancer was caused by exposure at the plant, Mosier said.
Also, current and former employees will be eligible for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses from the date they file their claim.
Covered cancers are myeloma and lymphomas, and primary cancer of the thyroid, breast, esophagus, stomach, pharynx, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary bladder, brain, colon, ovary or liver, and bone.
David Fuller, president of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union local, said he's confident the program will be administered fairly and swiftly. However, he hopes changes are made in regulations related to appeals of claims of claims that are denied and of the eligibility of survivors.
The Department of Labor is accepting comments on the regulations that are scheduled to take effect in August.
The proposed appeal process is to an appeals officer in the Department of Labor. Fuller and others think appeals should be made to an independent board.
Also, surviving children are not eligible for benefits unless they were under 18 or a college student at the time of the parent's death. He thinks surviving children should be eligible for benefits, regardless of their age.
The address for filing comments is Shelby S. Hallmark, director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3524, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210.
Information about the compensation program is available by calling 866-888-3322 or on the Internet at www.dol.com.
Government officials estimate that 70,000 claims will be filed each year from nuclear weapons plants across the country and that 11,000 claims will be approved.
Preliminary estimates are that over the next four years, the program will cost almost $500 million to administer and that $1.8 billion in benefits will be paid.