Legislation introduced to improve benefit program for nuclear workers
Sponsors of the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers' Compensation Act, named for an employee who developed brain cancer as a result of working at the Rocky Flats Plant nuclear weapons site near Denver, said the bill would make important changes to reduce the bureaucracy in the program and expand the list of cancers for which individuals are eligible to receive compensation.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., one of the sponsors of the bill, said that while the compensation program was set up to help workers who develop illnesses from exposure to radiation or other toxins on the job, employees have instead found their cases delayed for years by bureaucratic red tape.
"Charlie Wolf and his wife Kathy battled the federal government for help for six years before Charlie died earlier this year, and his case still has not been resolved," Udall said.
Udall said the legislation would:
- Extend the "special exposure cohort" status. The status would be extended to Department of Energy employees, Department of Energy contractor employees, or atomic weapons employees who worked at a nuclear weapons facility prior to Jan. 1, 2006. Udall said this will help make it easier for workers to establish that their radiation-linked cancer was the result of working at one of these facilities.
- Presume that a worker with a covered radiation-linked cancer is eligible for compensation. Udall said this puts the burden of proof on the agency to show by clear and convincing evidence that a worker's cancer was not caused by exposure while working at a nuclear weapons facility.
- Expand the list of cancers for which individuals are eligible to receive compensation. The current law, Udall said, fails to recognize some cancers that could legitimately be caused by exposure to toxic materials at these sites.
- Require the Department of Labor to pay a claimant's estate. The DOL would be required to pay an employee's estate if he should die after filing his claim but before receiving payment and leaving no survivors.
- Expand the duties of the Office of the Ombudsman. The goal, Udall said, is to provide greater transparency and communication with claimants and allow more time to file legal actions if claims are denied.
- Allow claimants who were previously denied to re-file their claims.
May 28, 2009
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