Hearings on tap for ill Flats workers

Rocky Mountain News –

Hearings on tap for ill Flats workers 

By Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News
August 16, 2007
Congressional hearings are on the horizon to figure out why ill nuclear weapons workers from Rocky Flats and elsewhere are still waiting for the medical and financial aid Congress promised them six years ago.

An aide for presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on Wednesday told a Colorado- based national organization of ill workers that the hearings aren’t scheduled but are in the works.

That aide and about a dozen others – including those working for U.S. Reps. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, and Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden – also pledged to help find legislative fixes for the troubled compensation program.

Obama aide Robert Stephan said that more than a dozen senators have attended a series of three working-group meetings. The meetings are to prepare for hearings in which the U.S. Department of Labor will be asked to account for the high denial rates and lengthy delays ill weapons workers face in getting aid.

The Rocky Mountain News reported this year that one in 10 ill Flats workers who qualified for aid died before getting it. The Rocky also reported that federal documents showed officials had made plans to limit payouts for sick and dying workers.

The officials in charge of the program went behind the backs of their bosses, called on White House officials for help and tried to hide their efforts, according to e-mails and memos obtained by a congressional committee.

Labor Department officials say the plans were never carried out, and they deny trying to hide them.

A bipartisan group of senators has asked the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to hold the hearings.

“It’s just an issue of getting ready and scheduling it,” Stephan said.

The news thrilled Terrie Barrie, of Craig, who helped found the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups after her husband fell ill. George Barrie had machined plutonium at the now-demolished Rocky Flats site northwest of Denver.

“I can’t wait for the hearings,” Barrie said after a teleconference with about a dozen congressional aides and an equal number of ill workers and their advocates.

frankl@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5091

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