Alexander Urges Administration Officials, Senate Committee to Examine Delays in Compensation for Sick Nuclear Workers

Posted on June 4, 2007

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today in a letter urged Health and Human Service Secretary Michael Leavitt and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to fix budget shortfalls that are causing backlogs in a critical program to provide compensation for nuclear weapons workers facing illnesses. Tennessee has more than 23,000 health claims from more than 9,000 individual workers under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. The EEOICPA is responsible for identifying former nuclear weapons workers suffering from workplace-related illnesses who are eligible for compensation. “We have twice the number of claims than any other state, so this is very important to Tennessee,” said Alexander. “We have to be a leader on this. The EEOICPA was created to process these claims quickly and effectively, its time for it to fulfill that promise.” Under the EEOICPA system nearly 7,000 Tennessee claims are still waiting for a final decision. “We should be treating our cold-war veterans at the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge and other facilities with the same respect they have treated our country,” Alexander said. In a second letter signed by 15 senators, Alexander requested that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to hold hearings on the administration of the EEOICPA by the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. 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. Senator 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 to Chao from Alexander this year concerning EEOICPA – calls attention to serious funding shortfalls and continues to urge that these shortfalls be “quickly corrected.” The letter to HELP Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Ranking Republican Mike Enzi (WY) requests congressional oversight and hearings into the problems of implementation of EEOICPA. Alexander is the lead Republican on both letters. Copies of both letters are below. # # # June 4, 2007 The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt The Honorable Elaine L. Chao Secretary Secretary U.S. Department of Health and U.S. Department of Labor Human Services 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W. 200 Independence Avenue, S.W. Washington, DC 20210 Washington, DC 20201 Dear Secretary Leavitt and Secretary Chao: We are writing to request that the Administration provide sufficient funding for Part B of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA) in Fiscal Year 2007. It has come to our attention that critical components of EEOICPA face a serious funding shortfall and program offices have already taken steps to cut back on claims processing. In particular, we understand that the Office of Compensation Analysis and Support (OCAS) within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – which conducts activities to assist claimants and support the role of the Secretary of Health and Human Services under the EEOICPA Program – is not receiving the funds necessary to perform dose reconstruction activities and process Special Exposure Cohort petitions at full capacity, and it is our hope that your two Departments will work together to solve this problem. This news is extremely troubling to us. In establishing the EEOICPA program, Congress intended our Cold War Heroes and their families to be compensated as quickly as possible. Delays resulting from insufficient programmatic funding are unacceptable. The NIOSH funding shortfall must be quickly corrected. Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. Sincerely, Lamar Alexander, Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, Jeff Bingaman, Charles Schumer, Harry Reid, Bernard Sanders, Maria Cantwell, Barack Obama, George Voinovich, Richard Durbin, Barbara Boxer, Christopher Bond, Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, Patty Murray June 4, 2007 The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy Chairman Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 428 Senate Dirksen Office Building Washington, DC 20510 The Honorable Michael B. Enzi Ranking Member Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 379A Senate Russell Office Building Washington, DC 20510 Dear Chairman Kennedy and Ranking Member Enzi: We are writing to request that the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hold a hearing on the Administration’s implementation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act of 2000 (EEOICPA). 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. However, implementation of EEOICPA by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has come under significant scrutiny in recent months due to delays in processing cases, denial of a high percentage of workers’ claims, and allegations that the Administration has limited payouts as a means of cutting costs. As a result, nuclear weapons workers with work-related diseases in 20 states are not being compensated, although they have filed claims. EEOICPA was designed to fairly compensate sick energy workers. Where radiation dose cannot be estimated due to the government’s inability to maintain or create records of workers’ radiation exposure levels, EEOICPA allows workers with cancer to petition to receive “special exposure cohort” (SEC) status and secure compensation, without dose reconstruction, if their cancer is among a list of cancers specified within the original law. Energy workers from at least 13 sites from 11 states, representing thousands of workers, have petitions for SEC status pending. The Department of Health and Human Services has been slow to consider petitions and places high burdens on petitioners seeking to be added to the SEC. A front-page story from the May 12, 2007 Washington Post highlighted these problems. We have enclosed a copy of this article for your reference. We strongly urge the Committee to hold a hearing on the implementation of EEOICPA during this legislative session and we offer our support in finding solutions to the problems identified above. Sincerely, Sherrod Brown, Lamar Alexander, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Bernard Sanders, Maria Cantwell, Claire McCaskill, Barack Obama, George Voinovich, Richard Durbin, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Christopher Bond, Ken Salazar, Robert Casey