Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nuclear workers caught in paperwork limbo

The civilian workers of this nations nuclear weapons program find themselves caught in the same type of mess, military veterans have been fighting for decades, first it was vilations of "national security conflicts" that prevented these veterans from being able to file claims, then DOD dragging it's feet identifying the veterans used in the many different nuclear experiments the pacific island tests, Nevada's test center, White Sands etc, the federal government has never made it easy for any of the people involved in this nations Cold War experiments, from the now infamous syphlis experiments at Tuskeegee to the chemical weapons and drug experiments at Edgewood Arsenal from 1955 - 1975, Operation White Coat at Fort Detrick from 1952 -1972, the nation expects the government to care for people that served this nation either in uniform or not, if it was war related, or government service, we all basically had the "Promise" if we were hurt or killed in service to this nation , our families and ourselves would be cared for medically and financially if warranted, now the government is doing everything they can to to stop the "Promise" from being kept. What they are teaching is for American citizens to quit volunteering to serve in uniform or even in private sector jobs that involve "classified government work" because if you are harmed by it, the goverment is going to make you and your family pay more than just physically for your service.

Sickened, and Fighting Another Cold War
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Published: December 23, 2007
They were some of the Cold War’s first warriors. Now they say they are among its last casualties, coping with cancers that may be linked to their work in Buffalo-area factories that made components for nuclear weapons half a century ago.

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Edwin Walker, who has bladder cancer, was exposed to uranium in the ’50s.

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Despite colon cancer and spots on his lungs, Russell Earley has been denied compensation.
VideoMore Video » It took decades for the federal government to acknowledge that it exposed thousands of workers around the country to dangerous levels of radiation in factories handling nuclear materials, starting with the Manhattan Project in the 1940s and continuing, in some cases, into the 1970s.

The workers say they were never told there was any danger, and many developed cancer. In 2000, Congress approved a program to pay those sickened from exposure $150,000 each and to help with their medical bills.

But many of the workers and their families in New York now say they have been harmed twice over. First they were exposed to dangerous radiation without protective equipment when their employers were under contract with the government to do weapons work. Now the program that was set up to help them cope with cancer, they say, has turned out to be excessively complicated and arbitrary, requiring decades-old employment records that in many cases are incomplete or cannot be found.

So far, nationwide, more than 65 percent of 14,600 cases have been denied based on incomplete or missing employment records. In New York State, 55 percent of 1,021 cases have been denied on those grounds.

Many workers say they have spent years struggling with government red tape to get compensation for their illnesses. Lately they have been worried that the federal government, to contain costs, will make it even more difficult for them to receive compensation.

“I’m not angry, I’m disillusioned,” said Tom Murphy, 77, a maintenance worker at Linde Ceramics, a company in Tonawanda that processed uranium ore for the federal government’s atomic weapons program in the 1940s. After he developed skin cancer and heart problems, he filed for compensation but was denied because his work records were incomplete. He has appealed twice to the United States Department of Labor, which runs the program.

While Mr. Murphy struggles with his application, his family received posthumous compensation for his father, John P. Murphy, who also worked at the Linde plant. He died in 1973, of lung cancer linked to radiation exposure.

Mr. Murphy said that safety engineers at the plant routinely assured workers that there was nothing to worry about from radiation. “They had Ph.D.’s and were well-educated men,” Mr. Murphy said. “They knew what the repercussions over time would be.”

Retired workers in western New York say they have had a hard time meeting program requirements because they worked for companies, like Linde and Bethlehem Steel, where weapons development projects contracted by the government made up only a small part of their business. Over time, the companies changed hands or closed, making records hard to come by, thus blocking compensation for former workers.

Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton have complained about the way the Department of Labor has operated the program, which is known formally as the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.

“It’s appalling and inhumane,” Mr. Schumer said in a telephone interview. Last year, he asked the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the department and report by next spring on its handling of the program.

“I have confidence that the report will bring to light the almost pernicious activities of the department,” Mr. Schumer said. “Then we’ll see if the department can change on its own. If not, we’ll have to take action.”

Labor Department officials insist that after a slow start, the program is meeting expectations.

Over all, the program has provided some $3.4 billion in compensation across the country. That figure includes medical reimbursements and assistance through an additional effort begun in 2004 to help workers at the same plants who were disabled by diseases not linked to radiation exposure.

“We understand that people are frustrated by how long the process takes,” said Shelby Hallmark, director of workers’ compensation programs at the Department of Labor. He added that a substantial number of workers or their survivors may still not be aware of the program and have not yet filed claims, “but over all, this program is working well.”

Some sick workers in western New York, however, say too many claims are being denied without proper cause.

“For God’s sake, if somebody deserves it and has as much proof as we have, there’s no reason at all that they shouldn’t be compensated,” said Edwin Walker, 74, who worked at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna from 1951 to 1954. He repaired furnaces and cooling beds where uranium ingots were shaped into rods. Now he has bladder cancer. While pursuing his claim for compensation, he has become an unofficial spokesman for more than 300 Bethlehem retirees fighting for compensation and care.

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