[Excerpt] Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act was passed by Congress to compensate American workers who put their health on the line to help fight the Cold War. Many of these workers developed cancer and other serious diseases because they were exposed to radiation, as well as some of the most deadly toxic substances known to modern man, in the course of doing their jobs. They and their families have paid dearly for their role in protecting our democracy; the purpose of this program is to acknowledge their sacrifice and to compensate them in some small way for all they’ve lost.
When Congress repealed Part D and enacted Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act in October, 2004, effectively transferring responsibility for administration of contractor employee compensation from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the Department of Labor (DOL), it also made provisions for creation of the Office of the Ombudsman for Part E matters. Congress directed that the Office of the Ombudsman was to be an independent office, located within the Department of Labor, and charged it with a three-fold mission:
- To conduct outreach to claimants and potential claimants;
- To make recommendations to the Secretary of Labor on where to locate Resource Centers for the acceptance and development of claims;
- To submit an Annual Report to Congress by February 15, setting forth the number and types of complaints, grievances and requests for assistance received by the Ombudsman, and an assessment of the most common difficulties encountered by claimants and potential claimants under Part E (42 U.S.C. § 7385s-15(e))*.
What follows is that Report. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao appointed me to be the Ombudsman for Part E on February 24, 2005; my most significant efforts in my first year as Ombudsman have been focused on providing outreach to Part E claimants and potential claimants, to let them know what benefits may be available to them under Part E, and what procedures must be followed to obtain these benefits. In order to discharge that duty, I undertook the following tasks:
- Established and staffed an independent office within the Department of Labor, as required by law.
- Traveled across the country to Town Hall Meetings during the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2005, to inform claimants and potential claimants of the benefits available under Part E, and the procedures that must be followed to obtain them.
- Met dozens of claimants at these Town Hall Meetings and heard, firsthand, of their concerns and difficulties in obtaining Part E compensation.
- Developed a website listing general information about the Office of the Ombudsman, including contact information, at: www.dol.gov/eeombd.
- Set up a toll-free number (1-877-662-8363) and an e-mail address (Ombudsman@dol.gov) for claimants’ ease of contacting this Office.
As a result of these personal contacts and several hundred letters, e-mails and telephone conversations, claimants have expressed their concerns, or registered their complaints with this Office about various aspects of the Part E compensation program. These comments range from concerns with the statute itself, to its implementing regulations, and its general administration. What follows is a short summary of those comments.