Panel recommends better benefits for some Colo. nuclear workers
WESTMINSTER – Some former workers at the now-closed Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant were turned away empty-handed Thursday when an advisory board recommended that only a limited number get easier access to compensation for work-related cancers.The Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health recommended that people who worked at the plant between 1952 and 1958 get streamlined access to benefits.The board recommended that health experts study people who worked at the plant after 1958 to see if they should also be included.Board chairman Paul L. Ziemer said the panel could decide later to expand the eligible group.The recommendations go to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. It wasn’t immediately clear how many workers are covered by each recommendation.The plant about 15 miles northwest of Denver made plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. It closed in 1989 because of safety concerns and the end of the Cold War.Many former workers have said they developed cancer and other diseases because of their jobs there.Currently, they must prove their diseases were the result of exposure to radiation or chemicals at the plant in order to get compensation – a standard they say is too high.Former workers at 21 other government nuclear sites can get benefits simply by showing they have a form of cancer that can be caused by radiation. The Colorado workers and the state’s congressional delegation want Rocky Flats added to that list.On Wednesday, more than two dozen former Rocky Flats workers pleaded with the advisory board to speed up health benefits, saying they feared they could be dead before they are compensated.”We are Cold War veterans,” said Judy Padilla, 60, of Denver. “I feel like I sacrificed my health and life like the soldiers in Iraq except there will be no flag on my coffin.”Padilla said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 and had a radical mastectomy. Almost five years later her request for compensation was rejected.All nine members of Colorado’s congressional delegation asked the advisory board Thursday to make it easier for the former Rocky Flats workers to get compensation.A letter from the delegation to the board said the government has stalled on providing compensation for the workers and has put obstacles in the path of legitimate claims.The letter says the advisory boards that make decisions on health benefits are filled with people who are unsympathetic to the workers. —On the Net:Report of study of Rocky Flats workers: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/rf/rfpworkerstudy/RockyFlatsFinalNIOSHR eport-te xt.pdf
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