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Office of Workers' Compensation Programs

ESA News Release: [12/14/2001]
Office of Workers' Compensation Programs
Contact Name: Stuart Roy
Phone Number: (202) 693-4650
Release Number:01-0477

Congress Changes Survivor Definition

Eligibility Expanded For Compensation From Nuclear Workers Program

WASHINGTON — Congress has enacted legislation that changes the eligibility requirements for children of workers who died after contracting certain work-related illnesses in work performed for the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons program.

"This amendment will help the department fairly compensate workers and their families for their sacrifice in protecting America during the Cold War," Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said. "The thousands of families that Congress had in mind when it created the program will now be eligible for help."

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) went into effect on July 31, 2001, to compensate nuclear weapons workers who became ill as a result of exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica on the job. Chao presented the first compensation check to Clara Harding of Paducah, Ky., on Aug. 9, 2001, whose husband was a nuclear weapons worker who died of abdominal cancer.

The amendment that was passed changes the definition of "survivor" in EEOICPA to also include adult children of nuclear weapons workers.

As the law was originally written, surviving children were eligible for compensation only if, when their parent died, they were under the age of 18, full-time students under age 23, or any age but incapable of self-support. Eligible survivors receive a lump sum payment not to exceed $150,000 per family ($50,000 for survivors of uranium workers).

The definition of "survivor" was an issue at more than 50 town hall meetings held throughout the country during the summer with nuclear weapons employees and their surviving family members. Because of the long latency of the diseases covered by this program, many of the people who attended these meetings were adults when their parent died.

In addition to changing eligibility for EEOICPA compensation, the amendment also:

  • adds a type of leukemia to the list of cancers for which certain workers can receive benefits and makes it easier for claimants who are suffering from silicosis to meet the eligibility standard
  • changes attorney fee provisions and clarifies what workers with pending lawsuits against certain employers must do to be eligible for benefits under this program.
  • requires the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to study residual radiation and beryllium contamination in certain facilities where nuclear weapons are no longer produced. NIOSH is to determine whether the residual contamination is significant and could have caused or contributed to cancer in a covered employee.

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