Bunning, Alexander Introduce Bill to Protect Benefits of Nation’s Sick Nuclear Workers

Posted on June 22, 2009

U.S. Senators Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on Friday introduced legislation that would ensure that compensation for the families of sick former nuclear workers won’t be taken away in cases where sick workers or their eligible survivors die before their claims are processed. “During my time in the Senate I have made it one of my top priorities to ensure that sick nuclear weapons workers in Paducah and at other nuclear sites around the country receive their benefits in a timely fashion,” said Bunning. “Because of government bureaucracy our Cold War heroes are dying before their claims are processed, leaving their families with no compensation. I hope this legislation will help the families who sacrificed so much while caring for their dying loved ones.” “Jim Bunning has been the real leader in providing compensation to dedicated nuclear workers who were so instrumental in our Cold War victory,” said Alexander. “Tennessee has more workers who were made sick through their exposure to nuclear weapon hazards than any other state in the union—nearly 20,000 cases. We should not allow an inefficient bureaucracy to run out the clock through a claims process that takes so long that our Cold War heroes are dying before their claims are processed, leaving their families with reduced compensation—or none at all.” According to the senators, this 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. Senators Bunning and Alexander have led legislative efforts to improve the EEIOCPA program, cosponsoring legislation that became law in 2004 to speed-up the processing of these claims by transferring the responsibility from the Department of Energy to the Department of Labor. The senators 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.