Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) and Jared Polis (CO-02) recently commended the first meeting of the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health for Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) which took place in Washington, DC on April 26-28, 2016 . While the EEOICPA program covers former nuclear weapons facilities in 45 states to provide compensation and medical benefits to nuclear weapons workers who have been diagnosed with various cancers and other medical problems caused by exposures to radioactive and toxic substances at these facilities, of particular concern to these Representatives is the former Rocky Flats Plant in Golden, CO, where unhealthy working conditions sickened and killed many former employees of that facility.
According to Perlmutter, “For years, Rocky Flats workers have fought for the healthcare and compensation they earned during their service to our country. This Advisory Board will improve transparency and consistency in the program and help reduce the endless red tape these workers currently face. I will continue to work with the Department of Labor to ensure this Advisory Board receives the attention and resources they need and our former nuclear weapons workers receive the care and benefits they deserve.”
Polis added that “the Advisory Board is an important step towards finally giving the thousands of former nuclear weapons workers at Rocky Flats the compensation and benefits they deserve. I look forward to monitoring the progress of the Advisory Board to guarantee that the EEOICPA is implemented effectively and truly serves the best interest of former Rocky Flats workers.”
Around 600,000 workers were employed at U.S. atomic weapons program facilities across the nation during the Cold War, where they were, often unwittingly, exposed to a plethora of radioactive and toxic substances. Enough exposed workers were sickened by cancers, Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD), and other serious illnesses after working in unprotected and unsafe environments, largely unaware of how lethal the materials they worked with actually were, that Congress was compelled to pass the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) in 2000 to provide compensation to these occupationally crippled workers. The Act was reformed in 2004 in an attempt to to speed up claim processing and also to create Part E of the program. It has been determined, however, that procedural inconsistencies and delays still persist which have prevented many workers from successfully submitting EEOICPA claims in order to receive just compensation and medical benefits for the harm they have suffered for their efforts.
At last the promise of meaningful change arrived when the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law on December 19, 2014, included provisions that required the President to establish an independent advisory panel comprised of members representing the scientific, medical, legal, worker and worker advocate communities to review and report on the scientific soundness of the DOL’s implementation of the program generally, with specific attention paid to the site exposure matrix (SEM), a DOL database designed to assist Claims Examiners in correlating exposures to various poisonous substances with specific illnesses likely to develop in the exposed workers.
Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Thomas Perez appointed all 15 members of the advisory board earlier in April, 2016, to include five members from the scientific community, five members from the medical community, and five members from the claimant community. Two of the Board Members from the claimant community had previously worked at Rocky Flats.
Reps. Perlmutter and Polis have been working to improve the EEOICPA’s implementation since 2009, when they introduced the Charlie Wolf Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would have changed the presumptive eligibility connection for covered cancers and illnesses instead of forcing claimants to go through the dose reconstruction process, which can be time consuming and often must rely on documentation of activities at the facilities which either no longer exists decades later, or was never recorded, particularly amidst the secrecy surrounding the development of the Manhattan Engineering District’s “Project” to construct the atomic weapons dropped on Japan in World War II.
When that Act failed to change eligibility requirements or improve the administration of the EEOICPA, Perlmutter and Polis, together with Rep. Whitfield (KY-01) and Senators Mark Udall (CO) and Lamar Alexander (TN), worked to create the Advisory Board under Part E of the EEOICPA program which held it’s inaugural meeting last month in Washington D.C.
Continuing their efforts to improve the application of the EEOICPA, Perlmutter and Polis, together with with Sens. Tom Udall (NM) and Lamar Alexander and Reps. Whitfield, and Ben Ray Lújan (NM-03), sent a letter to the DOL urging that the comment period for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, published last November by the DOL, be extended to allow the new Advisory Board to conduct its first meeting and then weigh in on over 100 proposed changes to administration of the EEOICPA. The DOL has since extended the time for submitting comments on the proposed changes until May 9, 2016, as covered in our last post.
A full accounting of the Advisory Board, including its Membership, Charter, Meetings, Federal Register Notices, News Releases, and Resources for further study can be found at http://www.dol.gov/owcp/energy/regs/compliance/AdvisoryBoard.htm
The Department of Labor (DOL) announced last Tuesday that they would reopen the comment period for the rule changes to adjudication of EEOICPA claims that they proposed last November, after having originally extended the comment period for an additional month in January. The comment period is now open for another 33 days, lasting until May 9.
While we would hope that the comments we previously submitted on the matter helped in some small way to encourage the Department to rethink their position on some of their proposals, we must acknowledge that the March 31st letter from U.S. Senators Tom Udall, D-NM and Lamar Alexander, R-TN to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, in which they expressed “strong concerns” about the proposed changes to the program, likely held a bit more weight.
In the words of Udall, “EEOICPA has been plagued with bureaucratic hurdles and delays for years, and I’m concerned that the Department of Labor’s latest rule change will just add more steps to the process and make it harder for sick workers to prove a case. Extending the public comment period is a positive sign, and I encourage all New Mexicans to weigh in. But we also need to make sure the new Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health has a chance to review the program before any major changes occur.”
That statement followed up a letter Udall wrote to Perez on Dec. 22, 2015 in which he stated, “Firstly, DOL proposed over 100 changes in this notice of proposed rulemaking, some of which may have an adverse effect on the way claims are adjudicated.” In that letter he also brought the Secretary’s attention to the fact that Congress had created an Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health in 2014, but that it had still not been seated a year later.
The appointments to that board, composed of five members from the scientific community, five members from the medical community and five members from the claimant community, were announced on April 1. A full description of the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health for Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) program and its membership can be found at http://www.dol.gov/owcp/energy/regs/compliance/AdvisoryBoard.htm
The Board’s first meeting will take place in Washington, D.C. on April, 26-28, 2016. The current extension of the comment period should allow for input from the Board on proposed changes that, it is hoped, will ensure that former Workers in the atomic weapons industry whose work there has sickened and killed them, or their surviving family members, continue to be justly compensated as originally intended by the Act.
In addition to assisting Nuclear Weapons Workers who have been sickened by that industry’s rather callous disregard for Workers’ safety, we are occasionally compelled to add our voice to the general discussion at the DEEOIC in order to attempt to keep the process there from repeating errors that would deny compensation to the deserving.
In the interests of both commending the DEEOIC on implementing the original intent of the EEOICPA through certain recommended adjustments to their procedures and drawing their attention to other recent developments found in the notice of proposed rulemaking it published on November 18, 2015 (80 FR 72296) that may not necessarily follow that intent, we have contributed comments of our own through the proper channels at regulations.gov.
Our comments on past successes and proposed changes can be read by following THIS LINK.
Here at Stephens & Stephens, LLP, we are continually studying the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA), from every angle, in order to understand all facets of the Act. This includes not only the Act itself, but the entire process of Atomic Weapons Employment that produced the somewhat less than ideal working conditions that led to the Act’s passage in the first place.
To that end, we have recently completed a complete Facility List of all 382 sites currently covered by the Act, with links to individual pages that describe each site’s location, activities, type (Atomic Weapons Employer [AWE], Department of Energy [DOE], Beryllium Employer [BE], etc.), EEOICP claims statistics, and time frames when the sites were active. As is the nature of the beast, these pages can be variously either incredibly detailed or somewhat vague, depending on currently available open sources of information.We have also provided a List and relevant pages for work sites that fall under the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) provision of the Act.
The site descriptions, however, can constitute a ponderous collection of details that would require even the most devoted student of the realm to spend copious amounts of time learning everything from nuclear physics to geography to territorial rights in order to fully comprehend, all of which likely involves more time and patience than most possess.
However, the Nuclear Age we live in was maturing in tandem with the Video Age we are now also fully immersed in at literally every turn. Further, we have entered a time when vast amounts of formerly classified information concerning the Manhattan Engineering District (or MED, which created the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and the subsequent Cold War are becoming freely available.
Therefore, it seemed only both reasonable and logical to include all available video documentation to our growing Library of data concerning the EEOICPA. The videos cover everything from the construction (and occasional demolition) of various sites to detailed documentation of nuclear bomb testing in Alaska, the Pacific Ocean, and Nevada to eminent physicist Richard Feynman’s highly amusing recollections of working with Oppenheimer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Other videos can serve to simplify complex nuclear science into language and images that make them understandable without becoming mired in minutiae. Still others document interviews with former Workers and their struggles with both certain Facilities and the Act.
In keeping with our fundamental aim of keeping as much information as possible both freely accessible and easily available, we have embedded the videos on their respective pages and linked to all of them on our Video Page, extended to complement Hugh’s concise explanation of the Act itself.
Please visit our collection of EEOICPA Site Videos for a fascinating view into the inner workings of nuclear annihilation.
In our continuing effort to make as much information about the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) as possible freely available and readily accessible, we have added a page to our site that includes a list of our previously blogged videos and links to each video for further perusal. The page can be found at this link, or in the menu above under Areas of Practice > Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).