Cold War veterans and their survivors packed a meeting room Tuesday to explore new compensation opportunities for cancers linked to jobs at Savannah River Site.
The program has already paid out $502 million to more than 3,800 SRS workers diagnosed with one or more of 22 cancers related to radiation exposure, said Rachel Leiton, the director of the U.S. Labor Department’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation.
However, a new category for former SRS workers employed for at least 250 days between Jan. 1, 1953, and Sept. 30, 1972, will make about 800 previously rejected claims eligible for reconsideration for lump-sum payments of $150,000 or benefit combinations worth even more.
Previous claims need not be re-filed, Leiton told about 250 people during a town hall meeting at the Augusta Mariott at the Convention Center. “If it looks like it might be eligible for this class, we’ll go ahead and reopen that case for you.”
Under the new “special exposure cohort” class for the site, a dose reconstruction study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is no longer required.
Such analyses often took two years or more, and now those cases can be resolved in six months or less. Many workers with authenticated diagnoses can quickly be given a “presumption of causation,” making it easier to collect compensation.
The changes were welcome news for some former SRS workers.
“I have three kinds of cancer and I’ve been turned down three times,” said one former employee, who spoke at the meeting but would not provide her name. “I worked there 28 years, got uterine cancer in ’94 and breast cancer in ’87.”
In 2000, she was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma.
“We’re the ones who need help,” she said from her oxygen-equipped wheelchair.
Although most attendees had filed previous claims, the meeting also attracted some first-time inquiries.
Julie Poole was just 9 years old when she lost her father, nuclear physicist Lovell D. Tice, to a rare type of lymphoma.
“We used to ask him what he did out there and he’d tell us, ‘it’s secret,’ ” the Columbia woman said. “He was only 42 when he died.”
She was among dozens of visitors who met privately with Labor Department staff members to evaluate records and seek guidance on how to file or check on claims.
Because records from so long ago are often missing or incomplete, program officials are available to help track down information, Leiton said.
“We try to ensure that we find as many of those records as we can,” she said. Sources sometimes extend beyond the Department of Energy and can include records from labor unions, contractor corporations – even personal affidavits.
“One of the most important things is to provide medical evidence,” she said. “Confirming the diagnosis is one of the most important things to be done.”