Pike County News Watchman

Plant workers battle compensation issues

Staff Writer

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Two former nuclear plant workers have submitted a resolution on behalf of workers across the nation to Congress in an attempt to eliminate mistakes they believe exist in a federal worker's compensation program.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Plan Act of 2000 - a U.S. Department of Energy program created to award $150,000 lump sum payments to the government's sick nuclear workers - is plagued with problems, believes Vina Colley, a former electrician at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon.

"The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000" was enacted by Congress to award an $150,000 lump sum payment to atomic weapon's plant workers who were made ill by their exposures to abnormally dangerous radioactive substance and components.

Vina Colley, a former electrician at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon believes the ACT is plagued with problems. "This first of its kind revelation did seem promising three years ago," she said. But in the years since the program was created, only a small percentage of thousands of claims have been completely processed by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Workers with sicknesses that fall outside the program's "special exposure cohort" that includes only radiation, silica or beryllium exposure are unable to claim compensation under the program.  And, even those who do qualify are having trouble getting their claims processed, said Colley.

Collaboration between Colley and Gai Oglesbee, a former worker at Washington's Hanford plant, birthed the Alternative Dispute Resolution Proposal which was submitted to Congress Nov. 6.  Both serve as chairs for the National Nuclear Workers for Justice and National Nuclear Victims for Justice organizations.

"Because of the government officials' failed attempt to compensate deserving claimants in a reliable and timely manner, we are exercising our right to put this unresolved matter before select members of Congress," said Colley and Oglesbee in a recent press release.

"Many claimants who contact us would rather remedy the issues during this EEOICPA process.  But, other claimants are preparing to or already have filed federal lawsuits," said Oglesbee.  "Because it is the right thing to do, we invite the members of Congress to establish a mediation process that will involve thousands of suppressed victims.  This Alternative Dispute Resolution shall represent a ways and means to remedy the mistakes made in a timely manner."

The resolution calls for the following worker benefits:

  • A tax-free $150,000 lump sum payment;

  • Lifetime medical benefits;

  • Pain and suffering to be negotiable without reprisal.

The National Alliance chairs are also requesting that the government's findings of fact when processing claims to strictly be weighed on the merits of sick workers' own medical records, including:

  • A "benefit of doubt" advantage for workers attempting to claim illnesses are linked to their employment at government facilities;

  • Consideration for unavoidable "gaps" in medical histories due to inaccurate record-keeping;

  • Sworn affidavits;

  • Any other negotiable aspects.

Colley and Oglesbee, both EEOICPA claimants, are still awaiting word on the effectiveness of their resolution.