Workers exposed to hazardous materials while working in the nation''s nuclear facilities have gotten closer to receiving compensation and medical care.
Thursday, President Clinton put the Department of Labor (DOL) in charge of distributing the compensation.
"While the nation can never fully repay these workers or their families, they deserve recognition and compensation for their sacrifices," said Clinton in a statement released with the executive order.
Under the executive order, DOL will begin work on the compensation program details as soon as Congress approves a budget.
The administration reversed 50 years of government policy in July of 1999 when it acknowledged that many workers were not given proper protection or informed about job hazards in the nuclear bomb-making plants.
Clinton''s orders instruct the DOL "to compensate these workers and their families in a manner that is compassionate, fair and timely.
The order also instructs the government to produce the information, if available, that will allow experts to decide whether a sick worker or the survivor of a deceased worker is eligible for the benefits.
DOL has until May 31 to write the eligibility rules.
That is also the deadline for the Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidelines for estimating the radiation doses received by those workers applying for assistance whose workplaces did keep accurate dose records.
The new federal policy is intended to help workers qualify for benefits under state worker compensation systems when they are suffering from diseases caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals.
For others, there will be medical care and payments of $150,000 per eligible victim.
These workers included those who breathed in lung-clogging silica while digging nuclear testing tunnels; factory workers who contracted incurable Chronic Beryllium Disease; weapons-plant workers with a radiation-linked cancer; and miners who extracted raw uranium from the ground.
It is unclear as to how many sick workers may qualify for the program. However, out of the more than 600,000 workers employed by the Department of Energy and its contractors, the government estimates that as many as 4,000 may be eligible.
by Virginia Sutcliffe