DOL Meets First Deadline for Nuke Workers' CompensationProgram

An all-out effort by the Department of Labor to meet the\r\nfirst deadline for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness\r\nCompensation Program Act has passed its first hurdle.

An all-out effort by the Department of Labor (DOL) to meet the first deadline for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act has passed its first hurdle.

Proposed regulations for the new law, which were due May 31, appeared in Friday''s Federal Register.

"Our goal was to issue these proposed regulations as soon as possible, to start the process of collecting comments and allow us to begin processing claims when the statute becomes effective on July 31, 2001," said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. "This is the first step of many toward implementing a very complicated compensation program. As part of our commitment to helping those workers who were harmed in service to our country, we want to make sure this program is launched correctly and on time."

On Thursday, May 31, the department will launch a toll-free number that affected workers can call with questions about the program: 1-866-888-3322. The toll-free number can also be used to request application forms. Updated information will be posted on the department''s Web site at www.dol.gov.

Between May 31 and July 31, DOL will host community meetings where workers can ask questions about the program, and at least nine Resource Centers run jointly by the Labor and Energy Departments will be opening near Department of Energy (DOE) facilities throughout the country.

DOL, which will administer compensation and medical benefits, has primary responsibility under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, but three other departments share some responsibilities.

DOE''s Office of Worker Advocacy will help workers file state workers'' compensation claims and list facilities where covered workers were employed; the Department of Health and Human Services must establish guidelines for estimating radiation doses and the likelihood that they caused a worker''s cancer; and the Justice Department is obligated to notify uranium workers eligible for benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act that they may also receive compensation under the energy workers'' program.

Passed in October 2000, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act pays medical expenses and lump-sum compensation to employees who are seriously ill because they were exposed to radiation, beryllium or silica while working in the nuclear weapons industry. Compensation will also be available to survivors in certain instances, and to uranium employees who received benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The interim final regulation published in Friday''s Federal Register establishes procedures for filing applications and determining compensation eligibility. Although the interim regulations provide 90 days for public comment, they will go into effect 60 days after publication so DOL can begin processing compensation and medical benefit claims on July 31.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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