The Clinton Administration has proposed changes to existing legislation that provides for compensating thousands of current and former workers in nuclear-weapons-related activities, or their survivors, whose jobs left them sick or dying.
"For many years, the government promoted a legacy of neglect toward those workers who helped build the strongest national security in the world," said Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Bill Richardson. "We failed to take care of our workers who became sick. The legislative changes we are proposing are an opportunity to build upon our commitment to do what is right for our employees and for this nation by showing we have listened to what our workers want -- more choices in benefits and more fairness in adjudicating claims."
The Administration''s proposal would amend the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, which was enacted in October 2000 with strong bipartisan support as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The Act provides for compensation of DOE workers, or their survivors, who have occupational illnesses from exposure to the hazards associated with building the nation''s nuclear defense.
Richardson and Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Alexis Herman jointly transmitted the proposed amendments to Congress yesterday.
DOL has primary responsibility for administering the compensation and medical benefits program, including determining eligibility requirements and adjudicating claims.
Under the proposed amendments, a covered worker will be provided a choice of compensation remedies.
The worker may elect to receive a lump sum payment of $150,000, as provided in the current law, or compensation for lost wages provided by the new legislation.
Compensation for lost wages is the traditional remedy for workers'' compensation under Federal and State compensation programs.
Both the new legislation and current law provide for payment of medical expenses.
The legislation also includes clarifying agency responsibilities for various activities and providing appropriate review of eligibility and other determination made in implementing the program.
The reviews include an appeals process for workers who may disagree with findings on their claims.
The Department of Health and Human Services will develop guidelines for DOL to determine whether a cancer is likely to be related to a workers'' occupational exposure to radiation, to establish methods to estimate worker exposure to radiation and develop estimates for those who have applied for compensation.
Richardson also made public an initial list of facilities that will be covered under the legislation, including beryllium vendors, DOE sites that used radioactive materials and facilities where atomic weapons workers may have been employed.
Some of these facilities are no longer operating. The list names 317 sites in 37 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Marshall Islands.
Also in Washington D.C., yesterday, DOE''s new Environment, Safety and Health Worker Advocacy Committee held its first meeting.
The committee chair is Emily Spieler, professor at West Virginia University College of Law.
The 14-member committee''s work includes providing advice on worker compensation policy issues and reviewing the department''s worker advocacy program initiatives.
by Virginia Sutcliffe