U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is pressing the Bush administration to fully fund a compensation program for sick nuclear weapons workers and calling for Senate hearings on why claims have been delayed.
“It has come to our attention that critical components of (the program) face a serious funding shortfall and program offices already have taken steps to cut back on claims processing,” Alexander, R-Tenn., and 15 other senators, including Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, said in a letter Monday to the administration.
The letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said radiation dose reconstruction activities and claims processing were being slowed.
“This news is extremely troubling to us,” said the letter signed by four Republicans, one independent and 10 Democrats.
“In establishing the program (in 2000), Congress intended our Cold War heroes and their families to be compensated as quickly as possible. Delays resulting from insufficient programmatic funding are unacceptable.”
A second letter from Alexander and 14 colleagues, including Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barak Obama of Illinois, asked the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to hold a hearing on the problems.
Tennessee has more than 23,000 health claims from more than 9,000 individual workers – twice the number of any other state, Alexander said.
“So this is very important to Tennessee,” he said. “We have to be a leader on this. The (program) was created to process these claims quickly and effectively. It’s time for it to fulfill that promise.”
Alexander said nearly 7,000 Tennessee claims are still waiting for a final decision.
Janet Michel, who has a claim pending for heavy-metal poisoning at the former K-25 uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, said she welcomed the help.
“It’s been extremely frustrating to see how far behind they already are,” she told The Knoxville News Sentinel. “Let’s get on the stick and get it funded.”
Lamar Alexander: http://alexander.senate.gov/
Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel,
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