Advisory Board Urges Improvements to EEOICPA to Help Claimants

The Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health devoted its biannual meeting in November to discussing recent changes to a federal program for sick nuclear workers and suggesting further improvements.

The advisory board met virtually Nov. 8-9 with Department of Labor (DOL) administrators of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) to review work the DOL undertook this year to make it easier for claimants to get compensated. The board also made recommendations so that in the future, sick nuclear workers’ claims are handled fairly and that they receive the medical care and other benefits the act provides.

The advisory board was created in 2015 and advises the Secretary of Labor on the technical aspects of the EEOICPA program. It is comprised of members from the scientific, medical and claimant communities.

Jim Key, chair of the USW Atomic Energy Workers Council, and Duronda Pope, the USW Emergency Response Program director, sit on the board with two others representing claimants.

At the November meeting, the DOL reported that the program’s staff continues to receive training on customer service, the proper way to talk to claimants and providers, and workplace civility.

In the past, “the advisory board received several complaints about the regional resource centers. It’s their responsibility to assist claimants during the filing process, not to determine whether or not they have a valid claim,” Key said. “The advisory board drew attention to it, and that’s why DOL conducted staff training.”

The DOL also accepted the advisory board’s recommendation to include links between diseases and occupational exposure from the International Agency on Cancer Research and the National Toxicology Program. The agency added this information on Nov. 16 to the repository at each site that contains the toxic substances and chemicals used, exposure data and scientifically established links between toxic substances and recognized occupational illnesses.

Adding this information broadens the scope of the repository, Key said, and shows more causal connections between workplace exposure and disease. This makes it easier for claimants to prove their illnesses are a result of where they worked. In addition, claims examiners use the repository and a guide book to approve or reject a claim, so it is important the repository be as complete as possible.

Advisory board members expressed concern over the lack of interviews industrial hygienists conducted with workers and the accuracy of their reports. These reports are also used to process claims.

Key said these interviews are important because until the early-to-mid 1990s, the sites did not have industrial hygienists measuring chemical exposures. Additionally, there was not documentation on the uses of certain chemicals by particular worker classifications.

Board members suggested the DOL start a pilot program to conduct more industrial hygienist interviews with workers to see if more and better information on exposures is obtained.

While the advisory board continues to seek improvements in the claims process, Key said there is still a lot of work to do.

“It’s not a user-friendly claims system,” he said, “That’s why the advisory board is needed – to make refinements to the EEOICPA claims process so sick nuclear workers can get the medical care and compensation they deserve.”

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