The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Sunday, July 13, 2003

Nearly 30 thousand claims by sick workers face backlog

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

Sick nuclear workers "are getting the short end of the stick" in seeking compensation the federal government promised them for toxic exposure, Rep. Ed Whitfield says.

Although the program has paid more than $110 million in claims to Paducah workers with radiation-induced cancer and chronic beryllium disease, there is a huge backlog in helping workers sickened from exposure to chemicals and heavy metals, said Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville.

Legislation passed in 2000 has two key parts:

A Department of Labor component that pays $150,000 and medical benefits to people who have certain cancers, beryllium disease and silicosis associated with uranium enrichment work. As of last month — two years after the program began — just over $110 million had been paid to 1,131 people, including workers and survivors, said Stuart Tolar, director of the Paducah claims center off Blandville Road.

A Department of Energy piece that qualifies DOE plant employees for state workers' compensation if a physicians' panel determines they got sick from job exposure to toxins. Of more than 17,000 claims, only 45 have been decided and about 7,000 haven't been reviewed. "DOE estimates that its backlog will take five years to clear, but at the current rate it will take over 100 years," Whitfield said in a recent letter to garner support for his bill to fix the problem.

DOE concedes it does not have a "willing" payer — insurance company or self-insured group — for up to half the valid claims that will be approved, and has no legal enforcement authority he said. "Imagine being sick, waiting five to eight years to get the claim decided, and then discover that the government has no one to pay the claim."

Another 12,269 claims are backlogged at the Department of Health and Human Services awaiting radiation dose reconstruction for the past several years. There is a need to speed up the process, which has produced only 223 reconstructions, Whitfield's letter said.

The new legislation is designed to set deadlines for claims processing and dose reconstruction, and make the Labor Department pay the claims.

Energy Employees Compensation Resource Center

Opened July 2, 2001, in Barkley Centre at 125 Memorial Drive off Blandville Road, next to Milner & Orr Funeral Home. It was the first of its type nationwide, established by the U.S. departments of Labor and Energy to help nuclear workers and families file claims for work-related illnesses.

Workers with at least one of 22 types of cancers related to radiation exposure, or with beryllium disease or silicosis, are eligible for $150,000 lump-sum benefits. If workers are deceased, survivors share benefits. Workers with diseases related toxic exposure may qualify for state workers’ compensation benefits.

As of mid-June, 3,788 claims had been filed on behalf of 3,045 sick workers, resulting in $110,015,000 paid to 1,131 workers and survivors.

Besides current and former plant workers, the program is open to current and past contract workers. That includes people employed by F.H. McGraw, which built the plant, and the many local firms that have worked at the plant through the years.

Telephone: 534-0599 or toll-free, 866-534-0599. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. It’s best to make an appointment, but walk-ins are welcomed. Online: www.dol.gov.

What you need: Information about years of employment and medical records. If you don’t have those, counselors will help gather the information.