Cantwell Endorses Recommendations to Speed Up Toxic Exposure Claims by Hanford Workers

Report findings can improve government program that compensates former nuclear workers for illnesses

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) endorsed recommendations in a government report to speed the payment of compensation for illnesses suffered as a result of working at Hanford and other U.S. nuclear complexes where workers faced exposure to toxic and radioactive substances. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report determined that a lack of information disclosure and missing or destroyed documentation has hindered the compensation process. In the fall of 2008, Senator Cantwell and ten of her colleagues asked GAO to write a report on the implementation of the Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (EEOICPA). The report found that while the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have made progress in reducing the backlog of cases, more can be done to improve the operation of the program.
“The GAO’s findings confirm what many of us have long suspected – that the compensation process for those who suffered injury or illness as a result of working at Hanford is far too slow,” Cantwell said.  “Energy workers and their families deserve a compensation program that works and I will be pushing to see that these recommendations are implemented swiftly. We owe nothing less to the thousands of Cold War Patriots who risked their health and safety to serve our nation at a critical time in history.”
The compensation program was intended to provide lump sum payments, medical benefits, and lost wages to employees, and in some cases their family members, exposed to toxic substances and radiation at federal facilities, mostly since World War II.  More than 600,000 workers have taken part in research and manufacturing related to nuclear weapons at up to 365 sites around the country since World War II.  To date the EEOCIPA program has paid out over $5 billion dollars in benefits to more than 56,000 injured employees.
Senator Cantwell has been involved in reforming the compensation program since the fall of 2003 to speed up worker claims and improve program efficiency. With thousands of people in Washington state affected, Senator Cantwell co-sponsored an amendment to move the DOE management responsibilities over to the DOL, which had a higher success rate in processing its claims. The amendment was included in the FY 2005 Defense Authorization Bill which passed in June of 2004.
The report, titledEnergy Employees Compensation, Additional Oversight and Transparency Would Improve Program’s Credibility,” is available here.