Miners have hard task of applying for benefits

Oct 8, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Thousands of uranium and coal mine workers were exposed to radiation between 1942 and 1971 when they were employed in Department of Energy facilities throughout the United States, including in Wyoming.

Federal agencies like the Nuclear Care Partners were developed to provide medical care services and guide former workers through the process of receiving compensation if they have developed illnesses as a result of radiation exposure.

The process is long and tedious, but the agency is able to help, NCP regional trainer and marketing manager Angela Hays Carey said during aR00;September "lunch and learn" event in Riverton.

Local residents gathered to hear from Carey about the ways that the agency can assist in their pursuit to receive reimbursement and continuous care at no cost. During the lunch, Carey talked about misinformation that has been spread about her program; she also told her audience what information they need and warned them about fraud perpetrated by people who will charge too much to help former workers file a claim.

Under specific guidelines of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act and the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, people can receive payments of $50,000 to$250,000, depending on the case.

One of the critical steps in filing a claim is obtaining an accurate and thorough diagnosis of illnesses of the lungs, respiratory systems, renal issues, and kidney injuries.

"There are thousands of diseases you can file for," Carey said. "There's a list of acceptable documents (and) documentation needed for different diagnosis."

Often times, simply gathering proof that these workers were employed at a certain time and specific place can be difficult. Decades have passed, and if specific information isn't archived, research can take a while. A W-2, pay stubs, or even written confirmation from a fellow coworker is useful.

"People have to have the right information (and) fill it out correctly," she said, stressing that numerous forms are required.

When Riverton resident George White first decided to file a claim, he wondered how he would gather proof of his years in the mining industry, when he was employed by the Atomic Energy Commission in Wyoming.

Originally from South Dakota, White started his mining work in 1956 and moved to Wyoming in 1960 because he was sure to get a good job.

For years, he couldn't obtain records showing where and when he worked as an equipment operator.

"I ran a loader and just did a lot of things," he said. "I worked many jobs."

His first attempt at filing a claim failed because he didn't provide enough proof showing what years he had worked.

The time it took for him to file that claim and have it denied spanned about three years.

He then turned to The Ranger's annual Mining and Energy Edition, which started publishing in 1956 to coincide with the summer convention of the Wyoming Mining Association.

"It had so much information in it," White said of the editions. "I always looked forward to it."

The edition contained "everything about" his job, he said, so he set out to go through the archives in the basement of The Ranger.

He then took his notes to the Riverton library, where he made copies of old newspapers and compiled them to send in along with his application.

His application got approved soon afterward.

"You have to be persistent," he said. "The biggest question was, 'Where do you go?'"

In doing research for his claim he also found out about radiation testing and lab results. Those helped him with his application, too.

White pursued medical care after suffering from kidney disease and fibrosis of the lungs, among other things. He recently had an operation on his pancreas and consistently travels to undergo the tests he needs to monitor his health.

In 2000, White retired from all things mining. He still enjoys remembering his days as an equipment operator dealing with underground mines, open pits and driving big trucks.

When he retired he was working for U.S. Energy. Every year, White attends an NCP event like Thursday's to hear of any changes in filing for claims.

Depending on their case, former workers are often encouraged to file a claim every two years. Their quality of life can worsen as years pass so it's important to continue with screenings and tests, Carey said.

There are three steps to the process:

Workers must first undergo medical screenings including a physical exam, hearing test, blood and urine tests, and other tests depending on an individual's work and exposure history.

If a potential work-related illness is identified, the screening exam results can be used to support a type of claim.

If the claim is approved, the individual is entitled to medical benefits to cover for costs of treatment on accepted conditions. Benefits contribute to medical care, drugs prescribed, travel expenses, doctor visits, radiological testing, treatment, hospital charges, medical equipment costs and therapies, with no deductible or co-payment.

Claims are accepted from uranium miners, uranium mill workers, ore transporters, down-winders, and other onsite participants.

For more information call Carey at (208) 520-8322.

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