Grassley Urges Senate Conferees to Support Changes to Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program
Grassley Urges Senate Conferees to Support Changes to Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program
WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Grassley today sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee today asking for continued support of provisions in the Defense Authorization bill which would fix a number of problems with the current Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.
It’s expected that conferees to the Defense Authorization bill will begin meeting soon to work out the differences in the House and Senate bills.
Grassley first began pushing to have the claims moved to the Labor Department nearly a year ago. It was Grassley's impression that the Energy Department had adequate time to process the claims of former workers at facilities like the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant.
"It's been made perfectly clear to me that the Department of Energy does not have the capability or expertise to fulfill their responsibilities under the original Act," Grassley said. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner these patriotic Americans can get help."
Grassley sent the letter with Sens. Jim Bunning, of Kentucky; Jeff Bingamen, of New Mexico; and others.
Here is a copy of the letter.
September 13, 2004
Honorable John W. Warner, Chairman Honorable Carl Levin, Ranking Member
Senate Armed Services Committee Senate Armed Services Committee
228 Russell Senate Office Building 228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510 Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member,
We are writing to urge you to support the Senate-passed provisions in Sections 3151-3155 of the Defense Authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2005 (S. 2400) which would amend the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) and fix a number of serious problems with the current compensation program.
We believe that there are very serious problems with how DOE has executed its responsibilities under Subtitle D of the original Act, which orders DOE to assist workers in securing state workers' compensation. Although DOE has received over $90 million for administrative costs during the past four years, only about five percent of the over 25,000 claims filed have been completely processed. As of August 2004, DOE has provided benefits for only 31 workers out of 378 positive claimants - those who have succeeded in proving that their illness was caused by DOE work. Thus, four years after the EEOICPA was enacted DOE still has tens of thousands of claims to process
On June17, 2004, the Senate adopted by voice vote an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2005 Defense Authorization Act which transfers EEOICPA Subtitle D claims processing and payment responsibility from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the Department of Labor (DOL) for workers made ill by toxic substances while working in the DOE nuclear weapons complex. This followed three Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee hearings which showed that nearly four years after enactment, DOE had only processed a handful of EEOICPA claims completely. Further, DOE has offered no credible path forward for this program, in terms of claims processing or assuring payment of all valid claims.
In its March 2004 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified a number of problems with the DOE's implementation of Subtitle D of EEOICPA, including a shortage of properly qualified occupational physicians available to review claims. Most importantly, GAO found that even if claimants in many states get through the physicians' panels and receive a positive finding, there is no one to pay their claim. Indeed, up to 50 percent of valid claims will not have a willing payer.
The Senate's EEOICPA reforms speed claims processing by transferring the 25,000 claims from the DOE to the DOL, which has successfully processed over 95 percent of its 55,000 claims under Subtitle B of EEOICPA and has paid out approximately $850 million in benefits to claimants. Every valid claim is assured payment with the Senate reforms.
This shift to DOL will not result in delays in claims processing. DOE will continue its claims processing during the transition period so there is no loss of progress under this amendment. DOL has 200 claims examiners in its four regional offices that are qualified and have been processing EEOICPA claims since 2001. They will assume this work quickly. All claims already approved by the DOL under Subtitle B will be accepted under Subtitle D for the same illness. This will eliminate the need to determine causation on thousands of current claims. This causation determination has already been the source of long delays for often sick and elderly claimants. These efficiencies can not be implemented by DOE.
In addition, the Senate's reforms correct a flaw in EEOICPA that denies eligibility to workers who were exposed to radiation at facilities that were not fully decontaminated after weapons production activities ceased. The Senate provision would enable workers employed at such facilities to apply for benefits under EEOICPA. The Senate's EEOICPA reform language also recognizes that New York, despite having one of the greatest concentrations of facilities involved in nuclear weapons production-related activities in the nation, continues to be severely underserved by the program. This reform legislation calls for the establishment of a permanent resource center in the western New York region, something that would represent a substantial step toward improving EEOICPA services for workers in this area.
We strongly believe that acceptance of the Senate provision will honor a national commitment to assist these cold war veterans who were assured upon EEOICPA's passage four years ago that they would receive the help they deserve if they were made ill by their work at DOE. We respectfully urge you and the other conferees to retain the Senate language on this important issue
Chuck Grassley, of Iowa
Jim Bunning, of Kentucky
Jeff Bingamen, of New Mexico