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USA government resists paying compensation to nuclear workers made ill by ionising radiation

the labor department ignored overwhelming evidence that her husband became sick from working at SRS

the system has become hard to navigate, with the government often fighting tooth-and-nail against the workers they were supposed to help

More than 2,200 workers had spent five years or more going through the exhaustive claims process, according to McClatchy’s 2015 “Irradiated’’ series. Some workers who filed for benefits died while awaiting decisions from the government, McClatchy found.

Death and despair. How the feds refused to help a nuclear worker’s family in SC, The State, BY SAMMY FRETWELL, December18, 2020 Every time Jerry Bolen came home from a construction job at the local nuclear weapons complex, he took off his dusty coveralls before stepping into the house he shared with his wife and children.

It was a precaution against tracking hazardous, radioactive materials into the family’s home in rural Barnwell County, says his widow, recalling how she would gingerly place the contaminated garment into the washing machine.

But while the effort protected the couple’s three kids, Jerry Bolen suffered. The long days he spent working at the Savannah River Site, exposed to chemicals and radiation, eventually killed him, his widow says.

Now, an exasperated Carolyn Bolen has sued the U.S. Department of Labor following a 13-year battle with the government over whether the family should receive compensation for the cancer that took Jerry Bolen’s life in 2006.

Her story is a familiar one. Many people who worked at SRS have complained for years that a federal compensation program for sick workers and their families is a bureaucratic morass that takes too long to maneuver and often doesn’t provide the benefits they were promised.

In Carolyn Bolen’s case, however, she was turned down so many times for benefits through the federal program that she exhausted all her appeals, prompting the federal lawsuit, she and her lawyers say.

The Nov. 20 suit against the labor department is among a handful of cases in South Carolina by ex-SRS workers and their families who were denied benefits in recent years through the federal compensation program, said Bolen’s lawyers, who specialize in helping sick workers.

Bolen’s attorneys said the labor department ignored overwhelming evidence that her husband became sick from working at SRS. They are seeking $275,000, the maximum she can get under the program. Other suits are expected as more workers or their loved ones are turned down by the government, said attorneys Warren Johnson and Josh Fester.

The federal government launched the compensation program two decades ago after conceding that employment at nuclear weapons sites likely made some of the workers ill. It was designed to help former employees who got sick working in U.S. nuclear sites during the Cold War.

To receive compensation, workers or their families must show that radiation on the site was as likely as not to have caused cancer or a handful of other ailments. Or, in some cases, they must show that people worked on the site during times when records of exposure are difficult to find.

The nuclear compensation program provides benefits to sick workers, but in some cases, covers their families after the person has passed away, such as with Bolen.

Unfortunately, the system has become hard to navigate, with the government often fighting tooth-and-nail against the workers they were supposed to help, Johnson said. Taking legal action to force federal compensation shouldn’t be necessary, said Johnson and Fester, whose law practice has represented sick SRS workers for years.

“This was supposed to be a way to make up for, or show our gratitude to these patriotic workers,’’ Johnson said of the compensation program. “They gave their health for our sake for the Cold War. We can at least offset the burden, by giving financial security, knowing they aren’t leaving a burden on their wives and children.’’………..

In 2015, the labor department told The State and the McClatchy Co. the program had approved more than 40 percent of the claims made by nuclear workers and their families, far more than the 25 percent the government anticipated when the program launched in 2001. The labor department said Friday the approval rate nationally is now more than 50 percent.

Even so, many claims don’t get approved and the wait for answers can be time-consuming. More than 2,200 workers had spent five years or more going through the exhaustive claims process, according to McClatchy’s 2015 “Irradiated’’ series. Some workers who filed for benefits died while awaiting decisions from the government, McClatchy found.

Earlier this month, a federal panel considered a proposal, advocated by Johnson, that could make it easier for thousands of workers and their families to receive benefits. But the board put off a decision until next year…………

he never complained about the long hours or said much about hazardous conditions at the site. That was important to the federal government because, during the Cold War, much of the work on the Savannah River Site needed to be kept confidential, family members say.

Tim Bolen, his son, said he never knew his father worked at SRS until just a few weeks before his death. But Carolyn Bolen did.

She remembers the days her husband came home with his coveralls coated in “white stuff’’ that she says came from the Savannah River Site. Bolen never knew what the material was, but she was always wary of the potential danger. And her husband occasionally offered clues that the white material came from SRS, she said……….

The site, a 310-square-mile complex, contains an array of nuclear production areas with some of the most toxic substances in the world.

Among them is a tank farm, which houses nuclear waste deadly enough to rapidly kill a person directly exposed to it. Carolyn Bolen’s lawsuit says her husband worked for a while in the tank farm area and another section where radioactive material is used.

The Savannah River Site, located near the Georgia border outside Aiken, was part of the national effort to produce atomic weapons between World War II and the early 1990s. Nationally, the effort employed some 600,000 people, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office……

After working periodically at SRS through the years, Jerry Bolen began to feel an uncomfortable sensation in the late 1990s that he couldn’t shake.

Something was wrong with his bladder. During trips to the bathroom, bloody urine flowed into the toilet and a sharp sting caused him to gasp. The pain was so bad, at times, that Carolyn Bolen could hear her husband’s cries throughout the house.

“He just screamed for mercy,’’ she said.

The discomfort sent him to a doctor, where the family learned the man who had faithfully kept a roof over their heads and food on the table was gravely ill. He had bladder and prostate cancer…….

In August 2006, Jerry “Little Mac’’ Bolen died at the age of 60, leaving his wife and family wondering how the once robust man could slip from their world. It didn’t seem right that a man so young and energetic had become so sick, family members say. …….

MISSING RECORDS

Jerry Bolen’s time at SRS, and his devotion to his family, haven’t impressed federal officials who have considered whether his family is eligible for benefits through the labor department’s sick worker compensation program. They’re skeptical an award to his widow is warranted, saying they need more evidence.

An obstacle some workers face is gaining access to records that could show there is at least a 50 percent chance radiation caused cancer they developed after working at the Savannah River Site, a complex developed in the early 1950s.

Many records either can’t be located, are inaccurate or don’t exist, meaning workers can’t prove how many days they worked on site, or the amount of radioactive material they might have been exposed to.

That’s a particular concern for subcontractors like Bolen, who did not work directly for the government or for the major contractors hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to run the site. Subcontractors often were local construction companies brought in to do specific jobs.

Johnson and Fester said records of subcontractors often are harder to find than those for energy department workers.

In Bolen’s case, the labor department turned down the family’s claim for benefits because “the submitted documentation does not establish covered SRS employment for the employee,’’ according to the federal lawsuit Carolyn Bolen filed. In declining comment on the Bolen case, a Department of Labor spokeswoman said Friday that claims can be turned down for a variety of reasons…..

Bolen’s lawsuit, however, said the labor department simply dismissed credible evidence that would prove the case. Jerry Bolen, for instance, worked with acquaintances or for his brothers’ construction businesses in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, according to five affidavits filed in Carolyn Bolen’s federal lawsuit last month.

Those affidavits, provided by family and friends who worked with Jerry Bolen, were combined with SRS identification badges issued in his name, and records of radiation doses the family ran across in his belongings. Some material was unearthed and provided to the government after the labor department had initially denied requests for compensation.

Despite the evidence, the Department of Labor ruled against the Bolen family’s request for reconsideration this past summer. Her case had been turned down at least three times before 2020.

“The department simply ignored additional evidence that Mr. Bolen was present at the site before 1968 and after Jan. 24, 1969,’’ the lawsuit said. “Mrs. Bolen’s request for reconsideration further asserts the department misapplied the law in determining covered employment by holding Mrs. Bolen to an impossible burden of proof.’’

While the Bolens have been turned down repeatedly in seeking compensation, Johnson and Fester are hoping the lawsuit will succeed. Fester said one of the five other cases the firm has filed resulted in a verdict that would have required payment to a sick worker. But the worker died before benefits were dispersed.

In the meantime, Fester and Johnson are pushing the federal government to approve a proposal that could open up benefits to thousands of people who worked at the Savannah River Site.

Under federal law, the government can acknowledge that it is too difficult to find records during certain years that would prove a person’s case for compensation for radiation-related cancer. As a result, the government can declare periods of years free of the need to provide records showing that a person likely got cancer from working at SRS.

The government already has done that for the time from 1953 to fall 1972. Some ex-workers at SRS, who were employed there for at least 250 days between these times, are eligible for benefits without producing extensive documentation about exposure to radioactive materials.

Now, a federal advisory board is considering whether to extend that to cover up to 1990 for some types of workers at SRS. It’s clear that Jerry Bolen worked well above 250 days between 1972 and 1990 at the site, so it’s possible his family could gain compensation if the time period is expanded to 1990, Johnson and Fester said.

A decision, under consideration for years, could be rendered as early as February if the federal advisory board recommends expanding the period. Such a decision ultimately would be made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the labor department said Friday.

Carolyn Bolen said a favorable decision — and her lawsuit — would mean a lot to many people who need help after they or their loved ones got sick at SRS.

“There are a lot of poor people in this world, and they don’t have the money like the president or the people in the White House,’’ she said. “I ain’t just talking about myself. There are people with needs.’’

This story has been updated with information provided Friday Dec. 18, 2020 by the U.S. Department of Labor.  https://www.thestate.com/news/local/environment/article247828620.html

 

December 19, 2020 - Posted by | employment, health, investigative journalism, Legal, Reference, USA

1 Comment »

  1. DOWNWINDER CANCER WARD FOR KIDS IN COLORADO 1965
    In belarus

    I’ve een it in the eyes
    It was ready to freeze
    Kids dying of chernobyl heart
    Young men with cancer in their.lungs and brains
    And blood coming out of their ears
    Hydrocephalus and cerebral.palsy with pain and screams and anguish and fear and screams and nightmares that haunt u for years and a 4 years old with bone cancer in her face and the fever is fuking killing me and I’m 5 up in st Mary’s hospital now w meningitis and leukemia and 3 months of a 105 f fever and sprite and puking Graham crackers and Apple sauce while watching the JETSONS in a meningitis delirium another icebath and spinal tap and blood in my peea multiscreened multicololored mugraine nightmares with o shaped lips and yellow cerebrospinal fluid dripping out of my back in cinemascope realism and yellow pudrid hell bilefire
    Who cares. Looking down on the street cooped up there months like a scrambled eggs on burnt toast i sit in the bathtub on ice praying for the pain to go away

    I spent the night in 20 different levels of hell each one.with different intensities of screams and pain and blood and Technicolor insanity inside at marys hospital i
    I don’t care about God or jesus
    Who are you. Who are you. why did John die what is death is it the end . does it hurt is it nothing. will I be able to go home soon.
    The babies. the older kids the bandages the gauze the pain going to the bathroom .the greenbilepuke. the blood in my pee. does my parents care about me the multidimensional migraine nightmares
    Tamara was taken out wen the red light came on
    Wen is it my turn

    Comment by Anonymous | December 19, 2020 | Reply


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