Sen. Chuck Grassley today sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson expressing concern that a final rule for the Procedures for Designating Classes of Employees as Members of the Special Exposure Cohort has not been published. The letter was sent by Grassley and several Senate colleagues.
"Former employees at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant have been unable to petition to become members of the 'special exposure cohort' because the Department of Health and Human Services has neglected to issue a final rule," Grassley said. "These folks have waited more than three years to get the compensation process started. There should be no reason for people to run into even more road blocks from the federal government."
Grassley has been working to ensure compensation for former Iowa Army Ammunition Plant workers. He has requested information from the Energy Department regarding the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.
Last fall, Grassley worked to include an amendment that would transfer responsibility for processing claims from the Department of Energy to the Department of Labor into several appropriations bill. The amendment would have helped former employees' claims move more quickly through the process that would allow them to seek compensation for their illnesses.
Grassley earlier this year petitioned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to object to a regulation that would make it harder for former IAAP workers to receive compensation. Grassley also personally questioned the Secretary of Energy about the department's management of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program and requested a review of the department's performance by the independent General Accounting Office.
Here is the letter.
Dear Secretary Thompson:
On October 30, 2000, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) was signed into law (PL 106-386) as part of the FY 01 Defense Authorization Act. Enactment of EEOICPA was a recognition by Congress and the President that the federal government needed to act quickly to remedy long-standing injustices against atomic weapons program workers. The findings of the Act make the need for the Program abundantly clear, and include the acknowledgment that:
"Since the inception of the nuclear weapons program and for several decades afterwards, a large number of nuclear weapons workers at sites of the Department of Energy and at sites of vendors who supplied the Cold War effort were put at risk without their knowledge and consent for reasons that, documents reveal, were driven by fears of adverse publicity, liability, and employee demands for hazardous duty pay."
The Act further states that:
"the purpose of the compensation program is to provide for timely, uniform, and adequate compensation of covered employees and, where applicable, survivors of such employees, suffering from illnesses incurred by such employees in the performance of duty for the Department of Energy and certain of its contractors and subcontractors."
Yet nearly 39 months after EEOICPA was signed into law, the promise of "timely, uniform and adequate compensation" has not been met. We are very concerned about the delay in finalizing the "special exposure cohort" petition procedures by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pursuant to 42 USC 7384(q).
In this regard, EEOICPA specifically provides:
"...members of a class of employees at a Department of Energy facility, or at an atomic weapons employer facility, may be treated as members of the Special Exposure Cohort for purposes of the compensation program if the President, upon recommendation of the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, determines that-
(1) it is not feasible to estimate with sufficient accuracy the radiation dose that the class received; and
(2) there is a reasonable likelihood that such radiation dose may have endangered the health of members of the class."
The law further states that, "the President shall consider such petitions pursuant to procedures established by the President."
Procedures for Designating Classes of Employees as Members of the Special Exposure Cohort were first proposed through a rulemaking, and then subsequently withdrawn in 2002 after uniform criticism. Revised rules were proposed in March of 2003, but to date they have not been finalized. Workers have and continue to be blocked from filing petitions to become members of the Special Exposure Cohort because HHS has failed to meet its statutory responsibility to issue these regulations.
Further delay is denying long-overdue justice for those who were intended to be covered by the special exposure cohort provisions of the Act. After over three years, HHS has had ample time to study this matter, and further delay is simply inexcusable.
Therefore, we urge you to finalize the special exposure cohort rules and publish them in the Federal Register immediately.
Our atomic weapons program workers, who are true Cold War heroes, helped protect our nation and deserve nothing less. We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Chuck Grassley, of Iowa
Hillary Clinton, of New York
George Voinovich, of Ohio
Tom Harkin, of Iowa
Charles Schumer, of New York
Patti Murray, of Washington
Mike DeWine, of Ohio
Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee
Larry Craig, of Idaho
Christopher Bond, of Missouri
James Talent, of Missouri
Harry Reid, of Nevada
Ernest Hollings, of South Carolina
Maria Cantwell, of Washington
Pete Domenici, of New Mexico
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, of Colorado