For decades the general public has known that working with nuclear weapons and nuclear energy carries a high risk and often results in long-term illness and death. Exposure to beryllium, silica, and/or radiation is a common hazard in the nuclear weapons industry and can lead to many illnesses, primarily various forms of cancer.
The federal government has been reluctant to acknowledge and compensate for the injuries sustained by energy workers, but in 2000 finally passed theEnergy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA), providing some relief for energy employees and their families. The program compensates and pays medical expenses for eligible persons who have sustained occupational diseases due to exposure to toxic substances, particularly radiation exposure, while on the job.
Eligible persons include Department of Energy (DOE) employees, some DOE contractors and their employees, and uranium miners and millers who work in specific areas, and their survivors.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, diseases covered by EEOICPA include:
- Cancer that is at least as likely as not related to radiation exposure in covered employment
- Specified cancer for some employees
- Chronic beryllium disease (CBD)
- Chronic silicosis
- Beryllium sensitivity (medical benefits only)
- Medical conditions accepted under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA)
Originally EEOICPA compensation included:
- $150,000 lump-sum compensation and related medical expenses to workers who contracted certain diseases as a result of exposure to beryllium, silica, or radiation while working for the Department of Energy, its contractors or subcontractors in the nuclear weapons industry
- $50,000 in lump-sum payments and medical expenses to uranium miners, millers and ore transporters who were awarded benefits by the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the RECA
- Benefits to qualified survivors of deceased employees
In 2004, Part E of the program became effective and expanded compensation up to $250,000 for exposure to a broader list of toxic substances including chemical, solvents, acids and metals, and providing for wage loss, impairment, and survivorship:
- $10,000 for each year in which wages were 25-50% less than the Average Annual Wage (AAW). The AAW is the average earnings for the 12 quarters (36 months) prior to the first quarter of wage loss.
- $15,000 for each year in which wages were less than 50% of the AAW
- $2500 for each one percent of whole body impairment
- Survivor benefits include compensation of at least $125,000 and not to exceed $175,000, awarded as follows:
$0 – if the employee had less than 10 years of wage loss
$25,000 – if the employee had between 10 and 19 years of wage loss or
$50,000 – if the employee had 20 years or more wage loss
Special Exposure Cohort
For some workers, it is not possible to estimate the level of radiation exposure, due to missing or questionable records. In order to receive benefits these workers must have developed certain cancers and diseases after working in one of three designated facilities for at least 250 days before February 1, 1992, or after being exposed to radiation related to certain underground nuclear tests at Amchitka, Alaska. The three designated facilities are the Gaseous Diffusion Plants located in:
- Oak Ridge, Tennessee
- Paducah, Kentucky
- Portsmouth, Ohio
The Department of Labor defines qualifying diseases in two categories as follows:
- Leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), if onset occurred more than 2 years
- after initial exposure
- Primary or secondary lung cancer (other than in situ lung cancer that is discovered during or after a postmortem exam)
- Bone cancer
- Renal cancers
The following diseases provided onset was at least 5 years after first exposure:
- Multiple myeloma
- Lymphomas (other than Hodgkin’s disease)
- Primary cancer of the:
- Male or female breast
- Small intestine
- Bile ducts
- Gall bladder
- Salivary gland
- Urinary bladder
- Liver (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated)
Since the EEOICPA passed in 2000 there has been a tremendous backlog of claims, and sadly many eligible workers have not survived to see their claims fulfilled. Fortunately, their survivors can still receive compensation, reducing the motivation and rewards agencies may perceive for delaying claims processing.
If you have questions about how workers compensation affects you in your particular employment situation or if you have a workers’ compensation claim, please contact an experienced workers compensation attorney today, such as Robert W. Kerpsack in Columbus, Ohio.