PRESS RELEASE: Atomic Weapons Workers To Gain Compensation

Benefits Through Reforms to Energy Workers Compensation Program

Congress Shifts Failing Program for Sick Workers

from Energy Department to Labor Department

For Immediate Release

Contact: Richard Miller 202-408-0034 x 127

or 413-531-5787 (cell)

Jack Pannell, 202-408-0034 x 143

Washington, DC - (October 8, 2004) The Government Accountability Project, a Washington, DC-based watchdog organization, applauded the efforts of Congress to overhaul the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) through an extensive set of provisions included in the FY 05 Defense Authorization Act (HR 4200).

Responsibility for evaluating claims and securing payments under Part "D" of EEOICPA was transferred from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the Department of Labor (DOL), and DOL will be responsible for paying benefits for workers made sick from exposure to toxic substances while employed in the nation’s atomic weapons factories. As a result of this change, sick atomic workers will not be required to file through DOE or state workers’ compensation programs, and the DOE and its contractors are completely removed from any role in deciding the merits of a claim.

"We are grateful for the leadership provided by a bipartisan group in the Senate led by Senators Bunning and Bingaman, and the tireless efforts of a coalition of House members led by Representatives Strickland (OH) and Whitfield (KY)," stated Richard Miller, Senior Policy Analyst at GAP. "Oversight by Sen. Charles Grassley (IA), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, underscored just how broken the DOE program had become as he exposed price gouging by DOE’s poorly performing support service contractors, and an illegal contracting arrangement that brought in an unqualified contractor to process sick worker claims."

"Promises made to sick workers were broken by the failed administration of this program, and all eyes will now shift to the DOL to make sure they deliver," added Miller.

"This is a tremendous victory for thousands of nuclear industry workers and their families," added Greg Watchman, Executive Director of GAP. "Many of these workers have paid dearly for their service to the nation and it is high time these claims were paid."

Since the law was enacted in October 2000, DOE has expended $95 million on administrative costs, but has rendered determinations by physicians’ panels on fewer than 8% of its claims as of October 2004, and has only secured payments for a mere 31 workers as of August 2004.

Three hearings before the Senate Energy Committee over the past year, coupled with investigations by the Senate Finance Committee and a Government Accounting Office report underscored the inability of DOE to effectively implement this compensation program, and strong bipartisan overcame Administration opposition to transferring the program to the DOL. DOL has demonstrated substantial success in implementing a separate portion of EEOICPA which makes lump sum payments of $150,000 for radiation-related cancers, beryllium disease and silicosis. To date, DOL has paid out $952 million in benefits under Subtitle B of EEOICPA, and has worked though 99% of its backlog.

The highlights of the reform package contained in the Conference report include:

* Transferring administration of 23,000 claims from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the Department of Labor (DOL), and establishing an Ombudsman to assist claimants with their claims;

* Authorizing the DOL to pay claims to workers with occupational illnesses who were disabled from their jobs, using a formula that accounts for impairment and time lost from the job due to the illness;

* Authorizing medical benefit payments for occupational illnesses, and payments to survivors;

* Funding of benefits through mandatory spending. Former uranium workers who were compensated under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) are also eligible for these payments and will now receive assured payments rather than relying on discretionary appropriations;

* Expanding benefits eligibility of workers who worked for private companies which supplied radioactive materials to the DOE/Atomic Energy Commission if there was "significant" residual radioactivity remaining in the facility; and

* Establishment of deadlines for NIOSH to process Special Exposure Cohort Petitions.