U.S. senators Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, on Thursday reintroduced a bipartisan plan to create an independent advisory panel to help Cold War workers from Oak Ridge and other nuclear weapons facilities get the help they need to treat cancer and other illnesses they developed as a result of exposure to radiation, a press release said.
“The panel would oversee the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which has been plagued by procedural inconsistencies and delays, preventing former nuclear workers from accessing the benefits they are owed,” the release said.
It said about 600,000 workers were unknowingly exposed to radioactive and toxic substances while employed at U.S. atomic weapons program facilities during the Cold War era. Because of this exposure, thousands of Americans now have developed debilitating—and often terminal—diseases.
“Despite this pressing need, thousands of workers have seen their benefits claims delayed for years, tied up in bureaucratic red tape,” the press release said. “The Toxic Substances and Worker Health Advisory Board Act aims to correct this wrong.”
“Workers at Rocky Flats and other nuclear facilities put their health on the line to preserve our national security during one of the most uncertain times in our nation’s history,” Udall said. “Our country made a commitment to these patriots, but so far that promise has not been kept. We cannot let another family suffer through the uncertainty of delays caused by red tape or see their loved ones denied the benefits they deserve. It’s time for us to do right by these workers.”
Rocky Flats is a former nuclear weapons site northwest of Denver that has been shut down and cleaned up.
“Many Americans labored behind the scenes working with little-understood hazardous materials to build our nation’s nuclear deterrent, and Tennessee has had more people—more than 14,000—file claims for compensation than any other state,” Alexander said. “This legislation would make the process easier for, and more accountable to, Tennesseans from places like Anderson and Roane counties who have made claims for compensation and deserve a voice in the process.”
Congressmen Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican; Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat; and Jared Polis, also a Colorado Democrat, have introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The press release said Udall and Alexander have “fought to recognize the significant contributions made by American nuclear workers and others who helped the United States win the Cold War.
Earlier this year, they introduced a bipartisan resolution to designate Oct. 30 as a national day of remembrance to honor the patriotism and sacrifice made by Cold War nuclear weapons workers.