Flats workers appeal aid ruling
They decry delay in providing help to ill employees
By Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News
September 26, 2007
Government officials didn’t follow the law and made serious errors in denying immediate medical and financial aid to most former Rocky Flats workers with certain cancers, worker representatives said this week.
In a stinging letter to the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, the former nuclear weapons plant workers formally appealed last month’s denial of aid to most workers with radiation-related cancers.
The workers said government scientists ignored the law by taking more than the allowed 180 days to decide whether to recommend immediate help for the ill.
The original aid petition asked that Rocky Flats workers receive a special status reserved for those whose radiation doses can’t be calculated because rec-ords are missing or incomplete. The special status, allowing immediate aid, covers only a small portion of more than 20,000 people who worked at the now-demolished weapons plant outside Denver over half a century.
The rest must now try to individually prove their ailments are related to workplace exposures, a process that can take years. The Rocky Mountain News reported this year that one in 10 Flats workers who ultimately were approved for help died before the process was completed.
The workers said in their letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt that officials tried for more than two years to find a way to deny the Rocky Flats workers’ petition.
The workers say officials at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, wanted to prove they could use Flats records to determine worker exposures. If most ill workers automatically qualified for aid, they said, NIOSH would no longer need government workers to analyze individual cases, jeopardizing their entire program.
As evidence, the workers cited internal e-mails from U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Shelby Hallmark questioning whether the program analyzing individual workers is needed.
The Rocky reported on those internal documents in March.
The appeal letter said, “Our workers died while NIOSH desperately dabbled in science under the threat that its program would be eliminated, spelling an end to the multimillion-dollar business.”
The letter added that the program has become a “jobs program at the expense of the workers and the taxpayers.”
A three-member panel appointed by the health secretary is expected to hear the appeal.