ANWAG objects to characterization that their work dishonors sick workers

ANWAG objects to characterization that their work dishonors sick workers

Terrie Barrie, January 25, 2016

When a government employee accuses people of dishonoring their friends and relatives because they question poor government actions, that employee is usually very misguided, as was the case with Mr. Howie.  In truth, it seems he is attempting to squash all criticism of his program by focusing on the messengers rather than his team’s record of denying health claims of sick workers.    

Members of the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG) are concerned by the statement made by Leonard Howie, III, Director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) in the January 22, 2016 article, “Nuclear workers feel new policy will make it harder to win compensation.”

In response to the advocates’ criticism to one of the guidance documents issued last year by the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC), Mr. Howie stated,

“This is not an adversarial program,” Howie said. “Our goal is to accept as many claims as we can under the law. Any implication to the contrary dishonors the men and women who spent their lives and sacrificed their health in service to this nation, and degrades the dedication shown by our staff every single day to provide compensation and medical benefits for those affected.”

It was a surprise to ANWAG that Mr. Howie feels that concerns and objections about certain policies when raised by the advocates “…dishonor the men and women who spent their lives and sacrificed their health in service to this nation…”

ANWAG is aware that Mr. Howie has only served as OWCP’s director for approximately one year.  Perhaps Mr. Howie is not aware of the pedigree of the majority of the advocates.  The advocates consist of three main groups.

First and foremost, some advocates are former workers.  These workers have developed disabling and possibly fatal diseases because of their exposure to toxic substances while employed at the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons facilities.  Many of these former workers were instrumental in educating Congress back in the late 1990’s on the need to have this compensation program enacted.  These workers, some of whom were quite young when the illness(es) developed, were no longer able to be gainfully employed let alone enjoy the rest of their productive years unaffected by the illness(es).

The second set of advocates – again, some who have advocated before Congress – are the family members of the workers affected.  These are the spouses, the sons, and the daughters of sick and deceased workers. They are/were on the front line caring for the dedicated workers whose health was compromised by the exposure to toxic substances.  They have seen, first hand, how the poisons their loved ones were exposed to have ruined the worker’s life.  The family members have sat by the worker’s bedside while the worker was dying.  The family members have picked up the worker when they were too weak to stand.  They have held their heads while the effects of chemotherapy wracked the body.

The last set of advocates are those who have no direct family ties to the workers but have come to know and respect them for their dedication in protecting our country.

None of these advocates would ever dishonor “…the men and women who spent their lives and sacrificed their health in service to this nation…”

Perhaps, Mr. Howie is unaware of the history behind the advocates’ concern that this directive.  Ten years ago, a memo between the former director of OWCP and the White House Office of Management and Budget surfaced. This memo offered suggestions that would help contain the growth in benefits.  (See the December 7, 2015 blog for the details).

The department has shown disdain for the workers and their plight for many years.  In an edition of the claims examiners’ training manual, this disrespect was evident when fictitious names were used in examples.  The name Freddie Kruger was used for workers and Dr. Hannibal Lecter was used for claimants’ personal physicians.

In addition, the Director of DEEOIC stated before the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health that claimants will lie to receive the compensation.  This statement is unjustified by evidence from the program and demonstrates the federal government was responsible for dishonoring the claimant community.

The advocate community has endeavored for years to work with DEEOIC to ensure DEEOIC’s administration of EEOICPA not only meets the intent of congress, but that the workers and their families are treated fairly.

This statement by Gary A. Steinberg, then OWCP Acting Director, acknowledged this work in an email dated May 28, 2014.

Thank you for your note regarding the actions from our joint meeting in Denver [on February 20, 2014].  I believe we are all committed to completing the action items in a timely manner.  As we look back to the meeting, we believe it represented a positive step forward in our outreach efforts and intent to have a more open dialogue with you and your colleagues about ways to improve the EEOICPA program.  As my friend Glenn Podonsky put it, the Denver meeting should serve as a “turning the corner” event for the program.  I hope that you share the same sentiments regarding the improvements in communications that we have achieved over the past few years.