Tonawanda News

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Feds sending teams to speed up radiation claims

By Patrick J. Bradley
SUNDAY STAFF

Raymond Corsaro of Niagara Falls has had skin cancer, prostate cancer and tumors in his hips and back.

He is convinced they are radiation related, a nightmarish legacy of the years he spent working at the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, a storage site for radioactive materials use in the development of the atomic bomb.

Now in his 60s and on long-term disability, he has been trying for years to collect government benefits under a special program set up to ensure medical treatment for workers suffering radiation-induced health problems as a result of working at U.S. government contract sites.

So far, he has been denied those benefits because the company he worked for, a subcontractor called Nuclear Material and Equipment Corp., no longer exists.

Corsaro calls the government agency that's handling his claim every month.

"Every month I get a different story," he said. "One month they said I'm on a list to get called for an interview. The next time they said they're having trouble compiling documents on that work site. The next month they said they have documents. Then they said they don't have enough help."

Corsaro and others like him hope they'll get some help this week when the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Energy travel to Buffalo for two joint sessions aimed at providing information and assistance to people filing claims under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.

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Where to get help

Workers or survivors who need assistance filing a claim may schedule an appointment at the joint Labor/Energy Department Traveling Resource Center by calling toll-free (866) 363-6993, or dropping in during the hours listed below:

Dates: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Site: Buffalo/Niagara Marriott, 1340 Millersport Highway, Amherst

Dates: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday

Site: Microtel Inn & Suites, 270 South Cascade Drive, Springville

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"It's long past time for this program to be administered the way that Congress intended it to be," said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who has pushed for quicker payments under the program.

"These events will give them the opportunity to meet firsthand with many of my constituents who have suffered for so long. I hope this trip will begin to resolve the many problems my constituents have had with this program."

Interviews with claimants will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Amherst and Springville. The visit by federal representatives comes months after an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2004 sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton required the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to report to Congress within 90 days on its ability to obtain timely, accurate and complete information needed to verify claims under the act.

That bill is currently under consideration in conference.

In the years since the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program became law, claimants have been repeatedly frustrated as their claims became tangled in red tape, sometimes as a result of NIOSH's inability to verify radiation exposure employment dates and radiation exposures - no surprise given some work records date back to the 1940s.

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Where they worked

Western New York is home to several employers that processed nuclear material for the federal government. Here's the list:

Buffalo: Bliss and Laughlin Steel, Linde Air Products, Utica Street Warehouse

Lackawanna: Bethlehem Steel

Lewiston: Lake Ontario Ordnance Works

Lockport: Simonds Saw (Buffalo)

Niagara Falls: Carborundum Company, Electro Metallurgical, Hooker Electro Chemical, Steel Titanium Alloys Manufacturing

Tonawanda: Ashland Oil, Linde Ceramics Plant, Seaway Industrial Park

West Valley: West Valley Demonstration Project

Source: Rep. Louise Slaughter's office

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On Oct. 16, Congress approved another $9.7 million for the program. That money will be used to expedite claims - 30 more case personnel are to be hired - collect workers' records and information on specific work sites, and prepare cases for review by physician panels.

"Almost two years after this federal compensation program began, of the more than 2,100 claims filed by workers in New York, only about 10 have been paid," Clinton said. "These people do not have the luxury of time on their side ... They deserve to be compensated and they deserve to be compensated immediately."

Contact Patick J. Bradley at 282-2311, Ext. 2251, or bradleyp@gnnewspaper.com.

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