Nuclear Workers' Compensation Plan Still Confuses Many Claimants

DOL has posted the second annual report by Malcolm Nelson, ombudsman for Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. His office was created in 2004 for a three-year period and must send these reports to Congress on participants' complaints, grievances, and requests for assistance. Part E is a federal compensation scheme for DOE contractor employees in the nation's nuclear weapons industry; it is administered by the Secretary of Labor and was set up by Congress after a DOE-administered program to help claimants get state workers' compensation assistance was found to be processing and considering very few claims.

The new report covers calendar year 2006. It says the ombudsman's office continued to receive many inquiries and comments about the program and about the difficulties encountered by claimants and potential claimants. "[W]e have spent many hours talking to and corresponding with claimants and their families about their concerns," it says, citing town hall meeting in Ames, Iowa in March 2006 and with the Navaho Nation's Office of Navajo Uranium Workers in Shiprock, N.M. and Kayenta, Ariz. in April 2006.

"A common thread in these comments is general confusion regarding a complex statutory program," the report says. "This Office would encourage the administrators of the EEOICPA program to continue their outreach efforts and invite them to participate in our outreach efforts in the coming year. This Office would also encourage DEEOIC to continue to work to improve communications with claimants and provide more information to the public about how the program works and, in particular, about the reasons underlying decisions DEEOIC is making that have widespread impact. Similarly, routinely providing copies of evidence developed (and correspondence sent to physicians or others) by DEEOIC would help to keep claimants informed about developments in their cases and allow them the opportunity to see and respond to negative evidence before a denial is issued. This Office would also recommend that DEEOIC promptly notify affected claimants when changes in medical benefits coverage take place and explain the reasons for those changes -- particularly claimants who need specific medications or medical treatments."

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