Letter to the Editor
Comments on 6-3-02 Comp Meeting
On Monday, June 3, a meeting was held in Oak Ridge to discuss the shortcomings of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Plan Act . This plan was enacted almost a year ago to provide compensation and medical benefits for those made ill in the production of America's nuclear arsenal. The very fact that the meeting was necessary provided both a warning sign and a chance to correct the shortcomings of this important Act. Comments and testimonies were little different from the DOE Public Meetings held two years ago.
The details of where the EEOICPA falls short are well documented through a number of sources, including the government agencies which put the package together. Citizen comments from the Public Meetings of 2000, the Thompson Senate hearings of March 2000, the National Economics Council report of March 2000, Workers' Compensation hearings in Columbus, Ohio in May 2000, and scores of written comments point out the inadequacies. Labor unions, such as PACE, the Machinists' Union (IAM), AFL-CIO, and others have presented workable routes to resolution. Professional organizations, such as the Physicians for Social Responsibility have provided input. All follow a common thread: the EEOICPA, in its present form, is inadequate, and will cover only a small minority of deserving claimants. I have collected several thousand pages of supporting documents which verify these opinions.
We are faced with two challenges: one, to make the present plan work as well as possible, and two, to expand both coverage and benefits.
The present plan has shown resolution for a small percentage of claimants. However, even Special Cohort Cancer and Chronic Beryllium Disease claimants have been denied or delayed, when their cases were obvious, documented, and within the guidelines of the Act. Other sites are experiencing similar problems. I became personally involved in establishing communication with the powers involved, and resolving some of the stalled cases late last year. I will give much credit to our local office, and the Director of the Jacksonville regional office, in helping resolve some of these cases. However, the extremes taken by these claimants should have been unnecessary. It took requesting Congressional intervention, input from several medical experts, support of a number of the DOE team which helped develop the bill, my request for Contempt of Congress proceedings against the Department of Labor's Adjudication Board, and almost a year of frustration to reach this point. If this "most-provable" of the illnesses meets these kinds of obstacles, claimants with other illnesses will never live to see resolution. The original, "as likely as not caused by the workplace", intent of the EEOICPA must be followed.
As a Chronic Beryllium Disease victim, I do not feel fortunate as a qualifier for this compensation. This is not a lottery prize. I have devastated my attendance record at work, cannot make even short-term plans for family or social events, see my own health worsening, and wonder about the future. However, I do not feel I, or any other person or group, should qualify, while others, who may have even worse health conditions, do not. All sites, and all illnesses, should receive equal compensation. Testing should be made available for every employee or former employee who believes his or her condition is work-related. Special aid should be provided to those who are seeking survivors' benefits, and may have little to no knowledge of a deceased spouse or parent's work exposures. I am emphatically opposed to writing everyone who drove by one of these sites a check, but if the claimant reaches the "as likely as not" qualifier, then the compensation should be theirs. We all know State Workers' comp will not work in these cases, I have no discussion here. Neither will dose reconstruction, in its present form, records, classification, and time will prevent it.
It is being said that this is another program which was designed to fail. I truly hope this is not the case, and through further Congressional action, justice will prevail. One speaker at the meeting rightly compared the EEOICPA to the environmental laws of the 1970's, which were a good first effort, but had to be revised to work properly. The Cold War veterans deserve no less.