America’s Cold War Energy Workers – Help on the way?

November 22nd, 2004 by

In late September, we wrote about the government’s pitiful efforts to compensate workers who became ill after working in our atomic energy program during the cold war. In 2000, Congress had passed The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).
We wrote about the cooperation required between the Energy Department (DOE), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to make the program work.
After four years of failure by these departments to get compensation to deserving workers who had been made ill working on our nuclear energy program, the DOL seemed to have made progress, but the DOE just couldn’t get out of its own way. Whatever the reasons, it was not getting the job done, and sick workers were paying for it.
Last month, Congress decided to use some common sense and did the right thing for the workers. It took responsibility away from the underperforming DOE and gave it to the DOL.
Congress also eased the criteria for qualifying for benefits; workers no longer have to have cancer to get paid; exposure to any hazardous substance now qualifies. Moreover, the payment process has been streamlined.
A comparison of DOE and DOL performance shows that this is a very good thing. In the four years of the program’s history, DOE had managed to make payments of only $700 thousand, while DOL had paid out $937 million. Clearly, a change had to be made.
DOL will now decide if the employee’s illness was caused by workplace toxins. And DOL officilas will determine the amount to be paid and see that payment is made.
We think that this is a good step and, as we wrote in September, perhaps our country can now get about the business of compensating the truly deserving among us.