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Office of Workers' Compensation Programs

ESA News Release: [08/09/2001]
Office of Workers' Compensation Programs
Contact Name: Stuart Roy
Phone Number: (202) 693-4650
Release Number: 01-0265

Chao Holds Compensation Ceremony

Program Clara Harding Helped Create Awards Her the First Compensation

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao presented the first compensation check under a new program for sick nuclear weapons employees, former employees and survivors in Paducah, Kentucky today. Clara Harding, the widow of former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant employee Joe T. Harding, was the first person to receive compensation under this new program.

"Today we celebrate something more than just the successful beginning of a new program," said Chao. "We celebrate the triumph of the human spirit, the ability to overcome difficulty and even tragedy to bring about something that is of great value."

Joe Harding died at age 58 in March 1980 of abdominal cancer. He worked at the Paducah plant for nearly 20 years, from 1952 until 1971. Clara Harding has been a vocal advocate for recognition and compensation of nuclear workers who became ill while working at the Paducah Plant.

"Out of personal tragedy, Joe and Clara Harding fought for and won an amazing victory, not just for themselves alone, but for thousands and thousands of workers in America’s nuclear weapons industry," Chao said.

On October 30, 2000, two decades after Harding’s death and a month after Mrs. Harding testified at a Washington hearing on the proposed bill, Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. In addition to the lump-sum compensation for employees or their survivors, the law pays medical expenses for covered illnesses.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act went into effect July 31, 2001. Congress passed the new law to compensate nuclear weapons employees of the Department of Energy and its contractors or subcontractors who became seriously ill because of exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica on the job. It also compensates some surviving family members.

The U.S. Labor Department, which administers compensation and medical benefits under the new law, has received thousands of claim forms since June, when it launched a series of town hall meetings to explain the law and claims process.

Details about the law are available on the Internet at www.dol.gov or by calling, toll-free, 1-866-888-3322.