Senate Passage of Complete Aid Fix
For Amchitka/Nuclear Workers Welcomed
October 11, 2004
Washington, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski Saturday welcomed Senate passage of a series of major changes to the federal legislation designed to compensate employees who became ill while and after working on federal nuclear energy programs, such as the workers in Alaska who worked on the three Amchitka Island nuclear bomb tests decades ago.
Murkowski was a key participant in the successful effort to craft an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill designed to solve several major problems with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act of 2000. The amendment was included in the conference version of the authorization bill that passed the House on Friday and the Senate this afternoon. It now heads to the President for signature.
The amendment moves to speed up the processing of worker compensation claims by taking most processing duties away from the U.S. Department of Energy - the DOE so far having processed just 3 percent of its claims - and giving the processing duties to the U.S. Department of Labor that so far has processed the vast majority of its pending worker compensation claims.
The amendment also solves a second key problem of finding a "willing" payor to actually pay compensation by requiring the federal government to directly pay compensation benefits with mandatory - automatically appropriated - funds through the Department of Labor. The amendment also creates a new avenue for compensation, Subtitle E, that will guarantee compensation not only to contract workers, but also to their survivors. Most people filing for claims under the new Subtitle E of the program also will automatically be eligible for compensation.
Under the existing program Alaskans, who worked on the Amchitka project (and thus already approved for aid under Subtitle B of the law ) and who sought additional compensation under the former Subtitle D of the program, had to unexpectedly prove that their illnesses were caused as the direct result of radiation exposure. The reform legislation will allow Alaskans to avoid the lengthy and costly process of proving causation hopefully eliminating another major problem Alaskans experienced with the original program. It will be assumed that their illnesses were causes by radiation exposure.
The new amendments also make it clear that benefits under the new subtitle E program can't be reduced based upon aid that a worker or survivor might receive under another part of the compensation program (subtitle B), and that the medical benefits will not be affected by co-payment or deductible requirements.
"Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the nuclear workers. It is well past time that we provide Alaskans and other Americans the compensation they have earned in service to our country. The workers and their survivors deserve no less," said Murkowski in welcoming the final agreement on changes in the EEOICPA.
Murkowski for months has worked with the Amchitka Resource Center and with fellow senators to hammer out the changes to the 2000 law. She argued that the Department of Energy had proven it is incapable of rapidly processing worker claims. Even after four years and more than $90 million in administrative funding, DOE had processed just 3 percent of its claims, 80 percent "languishing in the DOE system at the very earliest stages of development or with no work begun on them at all," she said. Murkowski said several recent Senate hearings found that DOE had only provided compensation to four claimants of the more than 24,000 that had applied to the Department for assistance a horrible track record.
"The record of the Senate hearings unequivocally reflects both DOE's dismal claims processing record and its failure to develop any plan to provide funds to a significant percentage of nuclear workers found eligible for compensation. It was clearly past time that we solved this problem," said Murkowski.
In Alaska, the compensation plan is open to about 2,000 workers who helped with site preparation for the Amchitka nuclear weapons tests from 1965 to 1971. About 300 of the workers still live in Alaska. So far, about 100 of those have been determined eligible to receive compensation, but none have yet received their money.
Image Courtesy of Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory,
NASA Johnson Space Center http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov
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