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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