Colorado Senators Ask Obama to Streamline Nuclear Workers' Compensation Law

Colorado lawmakers are striving to cut the red tape by asking President Obama to assist nuclear workers with roadblocks they encounter when attempting to obtain workers' compensation benefits. Currently, a federal act enables civilian employees exposed to radiation while working for the Department of Energy to collect workers' compensation benefits. However, many employees exposed to plutonium, for example, are denied benefits or encountering barriers because of the current structure of the law.

Under existing federal law, The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program of 2000, provides compensation for civilian employees of the Department of Energy, and its predecessors, for radiation, beryllium, heavy metal and toxic chemical-related health conditions. Unfortunately, the act fails to include certain categories of individuals covered under the law as well address the substandard procedures for administering the benefits.

Presently before Congress is Bill S. 757, The Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act. The bill seeks to amend The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program of 2000 by expanding the eligibility requirements, streamline benefits processing and improve transparency. Wolf, who died of radiation-related cancer in 2009, worked at three different nuclear facilities within the Department of Energy. He and his family spent the last seven years of his life unsuccessfully trying to obtain federal benefits under the 2000 Act. Through the new bill, Colorado Democratic Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, both sponsors of the bill, hope to enhance the present compensation program and make it more patient-friendly. Unfortunately, the congressional bill is stalled and making little progress.

In an effort to help constituents still encountering significant delays and, in some cases, denial of their claims, both Colorado senators as well as five Colorado representatives reached out to the Obama Administration. Specifically, they wrote to the Secretaries of Labor and Health and Human Services in July 2010, asking them to immediately implement into the current law certain administrative measures of the new bill. They requested the rules change to make claims processing more efficient, lessen the burden on claimants and take into account the difficulties of securing access to needed records and information to support claims.

It remains unclear whether the federal government will implement the new rules.