Report Details Injured Nuclear Workers’ Frustrations with U.S. Benefits System

February 21, 2006

The federal government has paid about $1.5 billion in benefits to thousands of sick nuclear weapons workers under a five-year-old program, but more could be done for thousands of others, says a report by a federal official.

The report, made public Feb., 17, was the first written by Donald Shalhoub, the ombudsman to the Labor Department program.

He wrote that workers have reported frustration with a requirement that they obtain workplace records, some of which are more than 50 years old. In many cases, the report said, records “were not maintained at the time of exposure, or if made, were lost or destroyed.”

In addition, workers thought the government takes too long to estimate how much radiation workers were exposed to.

“Otherwise eligible claimants may die while waiting for a result,” the report said.

Workers also complained that claims examiners failed to return calls and that their cases were reassigned to new examiners unfamiliar with their histories.

The Labor Department is “working hard to avoid” such problems, Assistant Secretary Victoria Lipnic wrote in response. She said some cases were reassigned because the agency added staff to more quickly compensate workers.

“We are committed to working as quickly as possible to resolve these cases, and we are keenly aware of the urgency of claimants who are ill, and in many cases very elderly,” Lipnic wrote.

Workers exposed to cancer-causing radiation or beryllium and silica, which cause lung diseases, get a lump sum payment of $150,000 plus medical benefits. Those exposed to other toxic hazards get compensated for disabilities and lost wages. The most they can receive is $250,000.

Most of the workers were at Energy Department facilities in Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

A White House document, obtained by The Associated Press earlier this week, outlined the administration’s concerns about the growing costs of the compensation program. The document discussed ways to cut costs, including requiring administration clearance of benefits decisions.

Labor ombudsman’s report:

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