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By Betsy Mason, STAFF WRITER
Article Created: 04/07/2008 02:31:24 AM PDT
Former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory workers who became ill from on-the-job exposure to radiation will now have their compensation claims fast-tracked through the Department of Labor.
Effective today, a new rule added to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act will make the claims process significantly easier for some claimants, including some who have already been denied compensation.
Workers who spent at least 250 days in an area monitored for radiation at the lab or at the lab's Site 300 near Tracy any time between 1950 and 1973, and later were diagnosed with one of 22 different cancers, will automatically qualify for a $150,000 lump-sum payment and have their medical expenses covered from the date they first filed their claim.
"Anyone who gets sick while in the service of our national interest should receive the benefits they deserve," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo. "And even more, these critical services must be delivered quickly."
A petition for special status for Livermore workers filed by Raili Glenn of Pleasanton, whose husband David died in 2005 from bone marrow cancer after 25 years at the lab, was approved by an advisory board in January, because of the lack of complete records for work at the lab prior to 1973.
Under the new ruling, the DOL will take another look at all claims from Livermore lab workers that are currently open or have been denied to see if they qualify for approval.
Previously, these workers had to endure a lengthy and complicated claims process that required them to prove they received a high enough level of radiation to cause their specific cancer.
This often involved years of back-and-forth with the labor department and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; the gathering of medical, employment and exposure records; phone interviews; and appeals.
Many workers have waited four years or more for a decision on their claims. Many have been denied, some died before a decision was made, and some are still waiting. High levels of frustration and feelings of betrayal are widespread among the claimants, many of whom are in the throes of battling cancer while trying to prove their cases.
Of the 1,266 claims that have been filed to date by Livermore lab workers, 818 have been decided and 67 percent of those decisions have been denials.
Now some of these workers, or their surviving family members, can skip the most difficult step of determining the level of exposure. All they need is proof that they worked at the lab in an area that was monitored for radiation.
Groups of workers at two dozen Department of Energy sites across the country, including the Nevada Test Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory, have also been given this special status.
"While this designation is certainly a step in the right direction, I'm concerned that many people are being left out," said Rob Schwartz, staff attorney for lab watchdog group Tri-Valley CAREs. "For instance, employees who worked in administrative areas will not be covered" by the new rule.
Workers who were at the Livermore lab after 1973 or who worked at Sandia/California or Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories will still need to complete the entire claims process, though there are currently petitions to grant more workers special, fast-track status.
Betsy Mason covers science and the national laboratories. Reach her at 925-952-5026 or email@example.com.
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