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USA Justice Dept now tries to prevent sick nuclear workers from getting compensation

 DOJ is wrong to fight state and sickened Hanford workers, The Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial Board , 29 Nov 18

Ill Hanford workers, of which there have been far too many dating back far too long to be considered a coincidence, have toiled for decades amid a radioactive bouillabaisse of chemicals related to the federal Energy Department’s cleanup of the nuclear site.

But until Washington state officials stepped up last year and did the right thing by ensuring that workers filing health claims would have an easier time winning compensation, these workers had to prove to the federal government that their variety of cancers and neurological and respiratory ailments were unequivocally caused by what, literally, was a toxic work environment.

It was a burden of proof too daunting for workers, often of little economic means to fight aggressive Energy Department lawyers setting down layers of bureaucratic hurdles. The state was right to champion the plight of sickened employees, even if some in the business and insurance lobby felt the state law was too sweeping in scope.

Under the new law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year, workers’ medical conditions are assumed to be caused by radiological exposure at Hanford – unless convincing evidence can be made showing other causal factors. That, essentially, flipped the so-called burden of proof from the workers to the federal government.

Since then, 28 of the 34 claims reviewed by the state Department of Labor and Industries have been approved, the state agency reported. That’s a far cry from the near blanket denials — five times the rate of other worker comp claims to the state, according to the advocacy group Hanford Challenge — under the previous policy guidelines set forth by the DOE.

But this week, the Justice Department delivered a rebuke to the state — and, by proxy, its workers who spent their careers cleaning up the chemical mess left over from plutonium production for nuclear weapons. In a letter sent to Inslee, the DOJ asserts the state’s law aiding worker claims violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The federal government, in short, does not believe a state has the right to “directly regulate” a federal agency. Washington’s new law, therefore, is said to “discriminate” against the federal government and its contractors.

Really? If there’s any discrimination at play here, it’s the Energy Department’s long-standing policy of making it burdensome for sickened workers to receive due compensation.

If the state does not settle with the federal government — presumably halting its practice of giving Hanford workers the benefit of the doubt in health claims — the DOJ will take legal action.


December 1, 2018 - Posted by | employment, health, Legal, USA

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