A program to compensate nuclear weapons workers diagnosed with certain cancers is adding a new eligibility class to assist former Savannah River Site employees, including those whose previous claims might have been rejected.
“As part of this change, there are about 800 cases previously denied that we are reopening,” said Gary Steinberg, the acting director for the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Worker Compensation Programs. “We’d also like to reach out to anyone eligible who has not been previously involved.”
The program, authorized 11 years ago under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, already has provided $501 million in benefits to 3,885 SRS claimants – part of $7.9 billion paid out nationwide to nuclear weapons industry workers with job-related sicknesses.
The new class for SRS became effective in March and applies to former workers diagnosed with any of 22 cancers and who worked at the site between Jan. 1, 1953, and Sept. 30, 1972.
Although there are other assistance programs for workers in later years, the 1953-72 time frame was identified as a period when workers were more prone to occupational illness related to nuclear weapons production.
“Back in the ’40s and ’50s, we didn’t really understand the implications of what would happen to people exposed to radiation, or to other toxic materials,” Steinberg said. “In some cases, the impacts took decades to manifest itself.”
The new class designation will make it easier for former workers or their survivors to file claims and will automatically allow previously rejected claims to be re-examined. Types of compensation range from a lump sum of up to $150,000 to other benefit combinations that total about $400,000.
Previously, former SRS employees diagnosed with one or more of the 22 designated cancers – of which lung, colon and breast cancers were the most common – had to undergo a “radiation dose reconstruction” performed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health before they could receive compensation.
The process, which included a formula to gauge the likelihood that a particular cancer was linked to the claimant’s job, took an average of 1,024 days to complete.
Under the newly created Special Exposure Cohort class, claims will be processed much faster – usually in less than six months – because cases will no longer be sent to NIOSH for a dose reconstruction.
Also, claims previously denied will be reviewed and workers diagnosed with cancer will be given a “presumption of causation,” meaning “it is at least as likely as not” their cancer is related to exposure to radiation at SRS.