Pike County News Watchman

By Van Rose
Wednesday, May 15, 2002

More problems for EEOICP

NW Staff Reports

Complications continue to surround the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP), established by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2000 to compensate sick government employees or their family members.

U.S. Congressman Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), who helped create the EEOICP, believes DOE has erected barriers to nuclear worker compensation, specifically under Subtitle D of the program.

The department, by law, is required to establish a physician's panel to review each employee's work history and medical records and estimate their exposure to hazardous conditions. DOE's proposed rules and regulations violate Congressional intent, according to Strickland, by allowing plant contractors to contest the findings of the physician's panel through DOE's Office of Hearings and Appeals.

"Congress laid out clear and unambiguous guidelines relating to this program that DOE simply continues to ignore," said Strickland. "Their obstruction does nothing more than deny compensation to a group of patriots who served their country during the Cold War and are paying a serious price with their health - and in many cases, their lives."

Other reported problems include:

  • Allowance of contractors to be reimbursed for legal costs of contesting all issues, except causation

  • Requiring physician's panels to apply widely differing standards for causation depending on the state where the worker was employed, and

  • Requiring claimants to bring a medical diagnosis to the physician's panel that offers evidence of workplace causation, which may not be possible due to DOE's incomplete employee exposure records.

"The intent was for the burden of proof to be on the employer, not the employee," said Mark Lewis, director of the local Workers' Health Protection Program. "Now they can contest it. I don't know how it got twisted around like this."

This is because the EEOICP administrator - the U.S. Department of Labor - may be used to causation being placed on the victim instead of on the government, said Glenn Bell of Oak Ridge, Tenn., a nuclear worker and supporter of an expanded compensation program.

"I expected a lot of loopholes and a lot of confusion since it is a new program," he said.

Some workers who fall under a "special cohort," suffering from beryllium disease, radiation or chronic silicosis covered by the program and not required to prove that it was caused by employment at the plant, are having their claims approved more quickly and easily.

Those not included in the cohort seem to "hit a brick wall" when their claims reach Washington D.C., told Bell. But even workers in the special cohort are still running into problems.

"If we can't get the easy cases through, everyone else is in trouble," he said.

Congressman Strickland joined four House colleagues last Thursday in writing a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham concerning DOE draft regulations related to implementation of the program.

"The law sought to remove procedural barriers to compensation claims by utilizing DOE's power of procurement with its contractors to pay legitimate worker compensation claims," said the letter. "Under (DOE's proposed) rule, workers will never receive the justice that Congress - on a bipartisan basis - had intended for diseases and disability incurred while working at DOE facilities."