U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) today announced that U.S. Administration officials have found the funds needed to avoid further delays in processing claims to compensate Tennessee nuclear weapons workers facing illnesses.
Alexander and Corker said the announcement – made in a letter by Administration officials after the senators asked for an examination into the delays – is a victory in the push for compensating sick nuclear workers from the Oak Ridge Department of Energy complex, Ft. Campbell in Clarksville, contractor facilities in Erwin and other locations.
“This is a win for Tennessee and a step in the right direction in making sure our Cold War heroes get the compensation they deserve,” said Alexander. “Tennessee has twice the number of claims than any other state, and we have to be a leader on making sure they are processed more quickly and effectively. This announcement is a good step in keeping the promises made to Tennessee workers who were hurt while helping defend our country. I’m glad the Administration has focused on the problem and has found a way to fix it.”
“I’m pleased the Department of Labor and the CDC have corrected the funding shortfall in the EEOICPA program so that our nation’s Cold War veterans, harmed in the service of their country, will receive the fair treatment and just compensation Congress intended,” said Corker. “Tennessee’s workers and workers across the country deserve to have their claims processed expeditiously, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that adequate funds are available to meet that objective.”
The letter from Administration officials is in response to one written in June by Alexander, Corker and 14 other Senators in a bipartisan effort to urge Health and Human Service (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt and Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Elaine Chao to fix delays in processing the compensation claims. The Administration letter announces that the U.S. Department of Labor and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) working together have identified funds to enable the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH) to continue the processing of claims at full speed.
Tennessee has more than 23,000 health claims from more than 9,000 individual workers under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA). It is the “Part B” component of EEOICPA that was at risk of running out of funds this year. EEOICPA is responsible for identifying former nuclear weapons workers suffering from workplace-related illnesses who are eligible for compensation. There are currently 6,500 Tennessee claims still waiting for a final decision under the EEOICPA system, and 2,900 of these claims are under “Part B.”
In 2000, Congress created EEOICPA to provide appropriate compensation and medical benefits to workers who contracted radiation-induced cancers, beryllium diseases or silicosis during the course of their work for the Department of Energy or its contractors.
Alexander cosponsored legislation that became law in 2004 that transferred the responsibility of claims processing from the Department of Energy to the Department of Labor in order to enhance and speed-up the processing of these claims.
The letter to Leavitt and Chao – signed by 16 senators and the second from the group to Chao this year concerning EEOICPA – calls attention to serious funding shortfalls and continues to urge that these shortfalls be “quickly corrected.” This week the senators received a letter from Administration officials confirming that funds are being reprogrammed for Part B of EEOICPA, which is the portion of EEOICPA for which HHS is responsible.
Copies of both letters are attached.