Former workers at Rocky Flats may be able to bypass the complex federal claims process and move to the head of the line to receive medical compensations for illnesses stemming from radiation exposure at the plutonium trigger manufacturing plant.
Rocky Flats workers were made part of a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) in early January which allows for this alternative route. In order to qualify for the SEC class, employees must have worked at least 250 days at the plant between April 1, 1952 and Dec. 31, 1983 and they must have been diagnosed with one of 22 specified cancers including bone and renal cancers. Other cancers including breast, colon and brain, among others, must have an onset at least five years after first exposure.
“It’s a lot shorter path to getting paid,” said Jeff Schultz, founder of Rocky Flats Nuclear Workers, a nonprofit advocacy group for former Rocky Flats workers.
Schultz and his wife worked at Rocky Flats for 16 years from 1983. Around nine years ago, his wife was diagnosed with kidney cancer and was told her claim would be processed but Schultz and his wife are still trying to prove she got cancer from working at the plant.
“It’s good news for a lot of people, there are a lot of claims out there that were denied that are now going to be revisited,” he said. “It didn’t help my wife any but we have high hopes of pushing those years out.”
During the town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19, in Denver, Stuart Hinnefeld, director for the division of compensation analysis and support for NIOSH answered questions as to why the SEC class did not include later years at the plant. “After 1983 it’s not so clear to us that we don’t have sufficient records, it may be reasonable to do it but we haven’t reached a final decision on that yet,” Hinnefeld said. “There’s still work that needs to be done to reconstruct the later years.”
Still, for workers and their surviving families that fit in the 15 year window, their claims may finally be validated.
“This is about justice. For years, Rocky Flats workers risked their lives to protect this nation and helped end the Cold War, and they are entitled to receive the proper health care and benefits for this unselfish sacrifice to our country,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter said in a statement to Colorado Community Media. “After years of delay and roadblocks, I’m pleased the Obama Administration is making sure these workers’ claims are processed in a fast and fair way to receive the health care and compensation they earned during their service working in dangerous conditions on behalf of our nation.”
As of Feb. 17, 2014, Rocky Flats claimants have received $304 million, the Department of Labor reports. There has been 8,424 applications filed for claims, of those, 2,351 have received compensation. The plant closed in 1992.