News Releases

Senator Murray Seeks Answers about Compensation for Sick Hanford Workers

Oct 23 2007

Murray Concerned about Lack of Transparency, Long Wait to Hear about Claims

Listen to Senator Murray’s opening statement and some key questions

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) asked tough questions of Federal Government officials during a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on concerns that have been raised about the compensation program for sick nuclear workers at Hanford and sites around the country. 

The program helps Cold War-era workers who are ill because they were exposed to nuclear and toxic materials on the job.  Senator Murray is demanding to know why it takes so long to process claims, why workers and their families are finding it difficult to get information about the status of their claims, and what can be done to make the process more transparent. 

“Many of these brave men and women and their families have suffered painful consequences from their commitment to our national security,” Murray said.  “I’ve heard countless stories of workers and survivors who’ve waited too long for a response to their concerns or claims.  Thousands in Washington state and across the country are stuck in a long and arduous filing process that often continues after the worker has lost their life to dangerous exposures.  The pain that accompanies illness and loss should not be compounded by bureaucratic and administrative frustrations.”  

Senator Murray also pressed officials about the status of a special classification that Hanford workers are seeking.  The classification, called a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC), would make the process of receiving compensation far easier. 

“During my time in the Senate, I’ve pushed the federal government to do the right thing by those at Hanford – to adequately compensate workers and their families and clean up the Hanford site for the well-being of those who live and work in the surrounding communities,” Murray said. “These sick workers and their families shouldn’t have to struggle with a frustrating bureaucracy as they seek compensation.”

Senator Murray’s opening statement from today’s hearing follows:   

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this important hearing to help us determine whether the federal government’s compensation program for our nation’s energy workers is serving our Cold War heroes adequately.

Many of these brave men and women and their families have suffered painful consequences from their commitment to our national security.  We’re here today because it’s our responsibility to ensure they’re receiving the compensation promised them in a fair and timely manner.  I’m glad we’re holding this hearing, because I have questions about how the federal government is administering the program:

  • I’m concerned about how long it takes to process claims – too many people have been waiting far too long for a final decision. 
  • I’m also troubled that workers and their families find it difficult to get information about the status of their claims.
  • And I want to know what we can do to make the process more transparent.

 I know that many of the Senators here with me represent states where these heroes worked for years.  They’ve heard first hand how exposure to dangerous radiation and toxic substances affected families for generations.  Unfortunately, the same is true for the workers in my home state of Washington. 

The Hanford facility, near the Tri-Cities in Washington state, began more than 60 years ago as a plutonium production site on the Columbia River.  During its peak years, nearly 50,000 employees worked at Hanford, where they played a vital role in the Manhattan Project.  Residents of the surrounding area sacrificed to help America win World War II and the Cold War. 

Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site and the largest environmental cleanup project in U.S. history.  Nearly half the size of the state of Rhode Island – the site is imposing.  Approximately 11,000 workers are part of the cleanup effort.  We know that working with such hazardous materials impacted the environment and harmed many of the workers who dutifully served their country at a difficult time during our nation’s history.

I’ve heard countless stories of workers and survivors who’ve waited too long for a response to their concerns or claims.  Thousands in Washington state and across the country are stuck in a long and arduous filing process that often continues after the worker has lost their life to dangerous exposures.  The pain that accompanies illness and loss should not be compounded by bureaucratic and administrative frustrations.  

During my time in the Senate, I’ve pushed the federal government to do the right thing by those at Hanford – to adequately compensate workers and their families and cleanup the Hanford site for the well-being of those who live and work in the surrounding communities.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since I helped to create the Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus – a bipartisan effort to increase funding for nuclear waste cleanup.  And I’ll continue that fight until the job is done.

Because of the incompetence of officials in processing claims at the Department of Energy, two years ago a number of us worked to move this compensation program to DOL.  I’m anxious to learn how things are going and what we can do better for those who’ve suffered so much.  As I said earlier, I have concerns about how the program is being carried out.  We must ask those responsible for administering the program some basic questions:

  • How can we shorten the time it takes for a claimant to get a final decision from the Department of Labor?
  • How can the Department better assist claimants in retrieving their records?
  • How can the Department communicate more clearly and openly with claimants?
  • How can we make the entire applicant process more accessible, transparent, and user-friendly?

 And I’m particularly interested to hear more about a recent request by Hanford workers to get a special classification that will make it easier for them to get benefits.

As we examine these critical questions, I would encourage the agencies involved to hold themselves accountable to these heroes and their families by measuring their service and making the process as transparent as possible. 

I would also encourage the Department of Labor to maintain the office of the ombudsman so that applicants have a place to go for help navigating such a complex program.  I applaud the work that the office has done over the last two years.

Mr. Chairman, our government has a responsibility to those who gave so much of themselves for our country.  These sick workers and their families shouldn’t have to struggle with a frustrating bureaucracy as they seek compensation.  I look forward to hearing from the witnesses about the government’s progress with this program, and learning more about how we can make it more responsive to the thousands of claimants still waiting for a decision.