Patty in the News

Washington's senators are calling for improvements in a program to compensate ill Hanford workers or their survivors.

They continue to hear from workers and their families that getting a claim approved is slow and difficult.

"Since the average length of time to process a claim takes between one and three years, one of the biggest concerns of Hanford workers is fully understanding upfront the requirements to qualify, rather than investing months and even years of time and resources to ultimately be denied," said the staff of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., in a statement.

The senators sent a letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Friday urging them to fix inefficiencies that can slow down claims processing in the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program for Hanford workers and those at other sites that have contributed to the Department of Energy nuclear program.

The program, administered by the Department of Labor, offers $150,000 to Hanford workers or their survivors if radiation caused cancer or the metal beryllium caused a rare lung disease. In addition, workers or survivors may receive up to $250,000 for impairment or lost wages because of any of a wide variety of illnesses caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals or radiation. Medical expenses also are paid.

The program has paid about $623 million in compensation and medical expenses to Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory workers or their survivors.

In March the Government Accountability Office evaluated the program and identified several areas that still need improvement to solve or minimize problems. Problems include incomplete or missing employment and health records for those filing claims and restrictions on Department of Energy site information.

In addition, new scientific information linking chemical exposures to cancer and difficulties in estimating exposure to radiation have added to slow processing, the GAO said.

The energy and labor departments have begun to address the issues identified, but need to do more to address them more completely and quickly, the senators said.

The Department of Labor workload also has increased as rules have been eased for some work places in certain years at several sites, including Hanford, because radiation exposures for individual workers could not be adequately estimated. That leads to previously denied claims being reopened and evaluated and additional new claims being filed.

The Department of Labor "needs to indicate if additional resources and personnel are required to process current and future claims in a timely manner," the letter from the senators said.

For more information on the compensation program or filing a claim, call the Hanford Resource Center at 946-3333 or 888-654-0014.

-Tri-City Herald