People who fell ill after working in the U.S. nuclear-weapons complex continued to struggle with a federal compensation program beset by confusing rules and incomplete records, according to the latest official assessment of the program.
Congress created the program after it became clear that the country’s nuclear-weapons effort routinely endangered workers’ health in the name of national security. In the nearly 16 years since the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act passed, the program has been the frequent target of criticism — from former workers, survivors, advocates and elected officials who have tried to help people navigate the system.
A new report, released Friday, focuses on 2014 and comes from an ombudsman’s office created by Congress in 2004 to aid the program’s claimants. Every year the office’s staffers summarize the problems brought to their doorstep, and every year those problems are numerous.
“We receive complaints and grievances addressing practically every aspect of the ... claims process,” the report says.
The program has helped tens of thousands of sick workers or their survivors, paying out more than $12 billion in compensation and health care since 2000 for illnesses ranging from cancer to debilitating lung diseases. But advocates who help claimants say it’s often a struggle to get approved, and many never manage it. Problems can also continue afterward, as people seek the medical care they’ve been promised.