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Press Release of Senator Cantwell
Cantwell Condemns Bush Plan That Could Put Much-Needed Benefits Out of Sick Hanford Workers’ Reach
Instead of letting scientists use facts to decide who gets compensation, proposal would hand decision over to political appointees
Monday, March 06,2006
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is calling on President Bush to end a proposal that could prevent sick Hanford workers from getting benefits. Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services, in conjunction with a White House-appointed panel of scientists and former atomic workers, makes decisions on compensating sick Cold War-era workers for ailments associated with their work at nuclear facilities like Hanford. The administration’s proposal could add a White House-led panel of political appointees to the process, which would make it more difficult for sick workers to get the compensation they deserve.
“The administration’s misguided rationale says this is all about controlling costs,” said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy Committee. “It’s wrong to balance our budget on the backs of the men and women who became sick because they served their country. We have an undeniable responsibility to give sick Hanford workers the benefits they need, not inject politics into a decision that should be based on facts. I’m asking the president to disavow this plan. Veterans of our nation’s nuclear facilities deserve fairness, not penny-pinching.”
In a letter to the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Cantwell demanded answers and asked for clarification on the proposal, which could prevent former Hanford workers from receiving needed compensation.
Cantwell has long advocated for fair treatment for former Hanford workers. A June audit that reviewed the Hanford site profile—a case history used to determine compensation for radiation-related cancers—found that thousands of former Hanford workers could be wrongly denied compensation due to the government’s failure to record radiation exposure data accurately and completely.
Insufficient or inconsistent data could make it impossible to determine the actual exposure level of former workers. Consequently, Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) status, which would make former employees automatically eligible for compensation, would be these workers’ only hope of compensation for their work-related injuries or illnesses. Last October, in response to the audit, Cantwell urged the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board, a panel of scientists and former atomic workers, to review the status of former Hanford workers. The Advisory Board is currently considering the situation. Now, Cantwell is working to stop any OMB move to undermine the SEC process and make it more difficult for deserving former Hanford workers to get compensation.
The administration’s proposal to convene a White House-led panel on the following five options, as outlined in an OMB memo, could potentially add a political layer to SEC status decisions by:
+ Requiring administration clearance of SEC decisions; + Addressing any imbalance in the membership of the NIOSH Advisory Board; + Requiring an expedited review by outside experts of SEC recommendations by NIOSH; + Requiring that NIOSH demonstrate that its site profiles and other information are balanced; + Requiring NIOSH to apply conflict of interest rules and constraints to the Advisory Board’s contractor