Washington, D.C. - U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) today introduced the Nuclear Workers’ Ombudsman Extension Act, which would extend the authorization of a key advocate for former nuclear weapons workers, including those who worked at the Rocky Flats facility which produced nuclear weapons parts.
Specifically, the legislation extends the authorization of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of the Ombudsman through 2025. The Ombudsman helps former nuclear weapons workers navigate the complex claims process under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). Under current law, the Ombudsman’s office is set to sunset in October 2020.
“These workers risked their lives to protect our nation and helped end the Cold War. This has been one of my top priorities because we must ensure these patriots receive the compensation and care they need and deserve as they deal with the health consequences and other side effects related to their service to our country,” said Perlmutter.
“Extending the Office of the Ombudsman for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program will guarantee a resource for those who have dedicated their lives to our national security,” said Wilson. “I know firsthand the extraordinary service at the Savannah River Site and am grateful for the critical work this office does to aid those in need as they navigate through the common difficulties associated with receiving these benefits.”
During the Cold War, approximately 600,000 Americans were employed at atomic weapons program facilities in the U.S., including thousands of workers at the former Rocky Flats plant in Colorado. Many of these workers were unknowingly exposed to radioactive and toxic substances, and as a result, developed debilitating and often terminal illnesses. These workers are due compensation and medical benefits under EEOICPA; however, the law has been riddled with procedural inconsistencies and delays, preventing workers from successfully submitting their claims and receiving their hard-earned benefits.
In 2000, Congress acted to provide health care and benefits for these former atomic weapons workers by passing the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). In 2015, Perlmutter helped create the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health to address some of these delays and reduce red tape faced by workers seeking compensation. The Advisory Board, comprised of scientists, medical professionals and former nuclear weapons workers, has improved transparency and made several recommendations to improve the administration of the program.
In 2019, Perlmutter introduced an amendment to make additional adjustments to better empower the Advisory Board, improve the claims process for workers, and expand transparency at the Department of Labor. It also reauthorized the Office of the Ombudsman but only through October 2020. Perlmutter’s amendment was successfully included in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with the goal of including the Nuclear Workers’ Ombudsman Extension Act in the FY 2021 NDAA.