Senator Reiterates His Commitment to Helping Oak Ridge’s Sick Nuclear-Weapons Workers
Posted on September 16, 2010
WASHINGTON – Members of the Cold War Patriots – a national nonprofit organization that represents nuclear weapons-complex workers and uranium miners exposed to radiation during the Cold War – visited U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Tuesday and gave him an award on behalf of the organization for his “outstanding support of America’s Nuclear Complex Workers.”
“I thank the Cold War Patriots for their gracious award,” Alexander said. “They and others who worked to advance our nuclear technology were instrumental to our Cold War victory, so I’m proud to have worked to ensure that their sacrifices are recognized and that they are properly compensated for the great risks they took to strengthen our national security. They put their health and their lives on the line in the service of their country, so I will continue to work in the Senate until the law recognizes their enormous sacrifices and compensates them appropriately.”
In 2007, Alexander sponsored a bill – which became law – that expanded the role of the Ombudsman at the Department of Labor to help these workers exposed to radiation that may have caused their illness. Previously, the Ombudsman was limited to helping sick workers whose health problems were related to exposure to toxins (like asbestos or lead).
Alexander led other legislative efforts to improve the EEIOCPA program, cosponsoring legislation that became law in 2004 to reform the compensation program for sick nuclear-weapons workers, speeding up the processing of these claims by transferring the responsibility from the Department of Energy to the Department of Labor. He also teamed with Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on an amendment that became law in 2007 that extended by five years the Office of the EIOCPA Part E Ombudsman, which helps claimants navigate the system and makes recommendations to Congress on how to improve the program.
Last year, the Senate approved a resolution sponsored by Senators Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Alexander declaring October 30, 2009, a national day of remembrance in honor of the thousands of men and women who supported the nation’s nuclear efforts during the Cold War. Senator Alexander is working on similar legislation to declare a national day of remembrance in 2010.
Also in 2009, Senators Bunning and Alexander introduced legislation to ensure that compensation for the families of sick former nuclear workers wouldn’t be taken away in cases where sick workers or their eligible survivors die before their claims were processed.
The legislation—which would amend the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA)—is needed to address cases in which sick former nuclear workers and their eligible survivors die during a claims process that can take years to complete, resulting in reduced or no compensation for family members. (EEOICPA was enacted in 2000 to provide compensation and health benefits to former nuclear weapons workers suffering from workplace-related illnesses.) The proposed law would address these problems by paying compensation to other family members—including children, parents, grandchildren, and grandparents—who are not considered eligible survivors under current law.
The senators’ legislation would address a problem highlighted in a 2007 EEOICPA Ombudsman’s report to Congress, which stated that “adult children have written and spoken of the hardship they endured in caring for their dying parent and the personal and financial sacrifices they made to care for their terminally ill mother or father … it is all the more appropriate for them to be eligible (for benefits) in light of the care they provided and the sacrifices they made.” This legislation also responds to complaints heard at a Senate committee hearing that Senators Alexander and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) co-chaired in October 2007 on the sick nuclear worker issue.
In cases where sick former nuclear workers die before their claims are processed, this legislation also would allow eligible survivors to choose between receiving either the benefits of the deceased employee or the survivor’s benefits. Existing law limits this choice to eligible survivors of sick workers who died before their claims were processed from a cause other than work-related conditions covered under EEOICPA. This legislation would expand that choice to all eligible survivors.
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