Caring for Former Rocky Flats Workers
In the decades following World War II, hundreds of thousands of Americans went to work to help build our nation's nuclear arsenal. Their service made it possible for us to win the Cold War. And like veterans of "hot" wars, they sacrificed for our freedom. Many of these workers were exposed to dangerous substances on the job - often without their knowledge. Among them were thousands of Coloradans who worked at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, many of whom now suffer from beryllium disease, cancer, or other serious illnesses.
The government has recognized that these workers deserve to be compensated for their sacrifice. In 2000, Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) to compensate sick nuclear weapons workers and certain survivors. But, simply put, the program is not working the way it was intended. While many people have received benefits, too many have faced incredible obstacles as they try to demonstrate that they qualify. More than a decade after enactment, many workers have died without receiving the health care or compensation they deserve. Others are still struggling with bureaucratic delays, years after they first applied for benefits.
Among those workers was Charlie Wolf, an engineer who worked at a number of nuclear weapons facilities including Rocky Flats. Charlie battled brain cancer for more than six years - all along, struggling with the federal government for the compensation he deserved. Sadly, Charlie died in 2009, but he remains an inspiration to me, while his case remains an example of what’s wrong with the EEOICPA program.
What's most unfortunate is that Charlie's situation is not isolated or unusual. Too many former workers like him have been subjected to repeated delays, lost records, complex exposure formulas, and other roadblocks as they applied for benefits under the EEOICPA program. It is unacceptable that these workers - who sacrificed for our freedom - have to fight the government to get compensation for illnesses they developed on the job.
I have introduced legislation to help ensure our nation’s nuclear workers are properly being cared for, and I'm also working with my colleagues in Congress as well as the Obama Administration to try to improve the system for workers. In meetings with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, I've shared the stories of Charlie Wolf and workers like him, and talked about potential actions the agencies could take to help sick workers through the process of applying for compensation. And I'll keep fighting until the compensation system works the way we intended it to.
In March 2010, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled Energy Employees Compensation: Additional Independent Oversight and Transparency Would Improve Program's Credibility. I introduced legislation (S.545) that draws from the GAO report's recommendation to require the president to establish an independent advisory panel comprised of members representing the scientific, medical, legal, workers, and worker advocate communities to help ensure our nation's nuclear workers are properly cared for. The board would review and report on the scientific soundness of the Department of Labor's health-related services for such workers, including eligibility based on the site-exposure matrix, guidance provided to claims examiners on medical evidence, and probability of causation standards for radiation-related cancers, as outlined in GAO's recommendation. I'll continue fighting to get the rightful compensation for the thousands of Coloradans who were exposed to dangerous substances while building our nation's nuclear arsenal to win the Cold War.
I Introduced the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act to improve a program designed to compensate workers who became ill because of their work at Rocky Flats and other nuclear weapons sites. Named for Charlie Wolf, a former Rocky Flats employee who developed brain cancer related to his work at the site, the bill would make important changes to reduce the bureaucracy in the program and expand the list of cancers for which individuals are eligible to receive compensation.