[Excerpt] Enacted in 2004, Public Law 108-375 also created an Office of the Ombudsman (the Office) and urged the Secretary of Labor to take appropriate action to ensure that it be an independent Office within the Department of Labor (DOL), including independence from the other officers and employees of the DOL engaged in activities related to the administration of the provision of the EEOICPA. See 42 U.S.C. § 7385s-15(d). The Secretary of Labor appointed an Ombudsman in February 2005, and the Office submitted its first report to Congress covering calendar year 2005 on February 15, 2006. When initially created, the duties of the Office only extended to Part E. On October 28, 2009, Public Law 111-84, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, expanded the authority of the Office to also include Part B of the EEOICPA.
The day to day activities of the Office are driven by two goals; 1) to provide information and assistance to claimants and potential claimants regarding the EEOICPA; (2) to provide opportunities for claimants and potential claimants to express their complaints, grievances, and requests for assistance concerning this program. In achieving these goals, the Office:
- Engages in outreach – We sponsor town hall meetings, as well as attend other meetings, forums and workshops where we discuss the EEOICPA and its requirements. This year, with the assistance of the efforts of a task force comprised of many of the agencies involved with the EEOICPA we were able to attend 20 outreach meetings in 11 different cities.
- Clarifies/explains documents and procedures – The EEOICPA can be very complicated and decisions are oftentimes based on very technical medical, scientific and/or legal concepts. We are contacted by claimants who find it difficult to comprehend these concepts. In addition, there are a many nuances to this program – for example for many of the “rules” there is at least one exception. Some claimants need assistance “steering the right course” as they proceed with their claim.
- Receives complaints, grievances and requests for assistance – Individuals with pending claims; individuals whose claims were denied; as well as some individuals whose claims were awarded, contact the Office or attend our town hall meetings, to voice complaints and grievances with this program. We are also contacted on occasion by claimants who have complimentary comments concerning the program – usually complimenting the services provided by individuals associated with the program.
- Provides assistance – It is rare when we are contacted by an individual who simply wants to voice a complaint. Most individuals contact us because they are seeking assistance with their claim. In some instances, we are asked to explain a word or decision. On other occasions, we are asked to provide assistance locating necessary records, or our input is sought on how to proceed with a claim. Inasmuch as many claimants do not have access to computers, we also frequently provide public information such as copies the Site Exposure Matrices; Site Profiles; listing of the 22 cancers covered for purposes of Special Exposure Cohorts, etc. Within the limits of our authority and resources, we assist claimants however we can.
The report that follows is a synthesis of the many e-mails, letters, telephone calls, faxes, and face to face conversations that members of this staff had over the past year.