.News Update 6/20/08

National Rallies to Support Federal Compensation Reform

June 20, 2008

As part of a national effort, former and current workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will rally to urge reforms of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. Many of these workers became ill when they were unknowingly exposed to radioactive, toxic and hazardous materials while working at the various Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities across the country. The Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety, an organization of former and current LANL workers who became ill from such exposures, is hosting a rally in Espanola on June 25.

Sick workers are eligible for compensation and medical coverage under the Compensation Act. However, the Act requires claimants to prove the link between their illness and occupation as required by detailed guidelines, which are difficult for ailing workers and their survivors to meet. The U.S. Department of Labor administers the program, but there have been problems.

The workers are also rallying against the unfair practices and illegal actions in the compensation process.

The groups have prepared a petition directed to Congress about the needed reforms. The petition states that they "are tired of the waste and fraud perpetrated by the federal agencies administering" the Compensation Act. The petition asks Congress to change the law to allow claims to move forward for all DOE facilities where records are incomplete; to cover all cancers, not just the 24 that are currently covered; add cost of living increases to the compensation payments; appoint a board to oversee the implementation of the reform legislation; and to include medical diagnostic testing for all sick workers.

Dr. Maureen Merritt is a physician advocate with the New Mexico Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocates. She has been working with the LANL workers to obtain compensation. Merritt said, "We are asking that our Representatives and Senators, claimants, families and friends unite to demand reform of the [Compensation] Act. In the last seven years it has become clear that thousands of valid claims for compensation have been flat out denied or delayed endlessly by intentional acts of the federal bureaucrats tasked with administering the program fairly and equitably. This must change."

LANL workers and their supporters have joined with the Bethlehem Steel Action Group and their local AFL/CIO in the call for nationwide rallies. Joyce Walker, widow of Ed Walker who was the founder of the Bethlehem Group, is a vocal advocate for the reforms. She said, "We will not quit, we will not go away, and we will not rest until justice has been served for the workers and families of all who have suffered."

The organizers have invited the public to attend the rally to support the LANL workers. The Espanola rally will be held on Wednesday, June 25 from 11:30 to 12:30 outside the Energy Employee Compensation Resource Center offices, located at 412 Paseo de Onate, Suite D. For more information, please contact Dr. Merritt at (505) 455-0550.

Other rallies will be held on public streets near Department of Labor offices in Cleveland, Ohio; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Denver, Colorado.

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