DOE Seeks Public Comment on Program to Assist Nuke Workers

The Department of Energy is asking the public to comment on proposed procedures that it will use to help workers who became ill from exposure to radiation.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is asking the public to comment on proposed procedures that it will use to help workers under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000.

The act was designed to help workers who became ill from exposure to radiation and other serious hazards while working to build the nation''s nuclear weapons arsenal over the past 50 years.

The act established two programs, each with different eligibility criteria and different benefits.

The first, managed by the Department of Labor (DOL), provides benefits only to workers with certain cancers and lung diseases.

Benefits are a lump sum payment of $150,000 and coverage of future medical costs associated with the disease.

The second is managed by DOE and focuses on workers not covered by the DOL program, such as workers with disease caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals.

While the legislation did not provide federal benefits for these workers, the act directs the department to help DOE contract workers with an occupational illness to apply for state workers'' compensation benefits. Benefits will differ from state to state.

For the DOE program, the legislation calls for worker medical records to be reviewed by an independent panel of physicians.

If the physician''s panel finds the worker''s illness meets compensation criteria based on employment activities at an Energy Department facility, the DOE must assist the applicant in filing the claim.

In addition, DOE may, to the extent permitted by law, direct a DOE contractor not to contest the claim or award, unless significant new evidence justifies a review.

DOE is asking for comment on the proposed rule no later than Oct. 9, 2001.

A public meeting will be held on Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C.

Specific information on the rule can be obtained from the Federal Register.

by Virginia Foran

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