$400M Paid So Far to Colorado Nuclear Workers

May 14, 2009

The U.S. Department of Labor says it has paid more than $408 million to compensate Coloradans sickened by working in the atomic weapons industry, including some who worked at the former Rocky Flats weapons plant near Denver.

The money went to 5,042 Colorado claimants under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, which was created to help people suffering cancer and other illnesses caused by exposure to toxic substances, the department said.

The act covers several facilities in Colorado including Rocky Flats, the Rulison Nuclear Explosion Site, and the Rio Blanco nuclear explosion site.

Coloradans have filed 8,713 cases under the act, but about 15 percent were ineligible for benefits, the Labor Department said. There are 929 cases awaiting a final decision.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said more needs to be done to ensure people who worked at Cold War-era weapons sites receive compensation.

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation introduced legislation in March shifting the burden of proof for winning compensation. Rather than requiring sick workers or their survivors to prove their illnesses were caused by work at the sites, the bill would require the government to prove otherwise.

The proposal was named after Charlie Wolf, a Rocky Flats worker who suffered brain tumors and died this year. His family spent seven years seeking benefits.

“Several Rocky Flats workers have died and those who have survived are still waiting for basic health benefits and compensation,” Udall said.

Rachel P. Leiton, director of the Labor Department’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation, said the department’s goal is to compensate eligible claimants as quickly as possible.

“We have compensated many deserving individuals from the state of Colorado. But we also believe there may be other Coloradans who have not yet filed for these benefits,” she said.

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