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2022 DOL Changes Recap: Value in Continuing to Review EEOICPA Benefits

January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

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Latest changes expand eligibility, increase number of presumptive illnesses, and approve more SEC petitions

 

Like many government programs, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) is highly complex. If you’ve already applied for a white medical benefits card under EEOICPA, you have already experienced firsthand the various barriers and burdensome processes that result in roughly 50% of claimants being denied benefits.

Those nuclear and uranium workers fortunate enough to have been approved for benefits may breathe a sigh of relief with the feeling that they have passed the most complicated part of the process. However, if you’re sitting back and thinking that your work is done, you need to think again because the EEOICPA benefits program is always changing. And while many of these changes are for the better, providing additional benefits and extending eligibility criteria, requires that workers continue to educate themselves on the latest changes that could impact them financially. Failing to keep up may mean you and your family could be missing out on valuable benefits and services.

For those workers who have previously been denied EEOICPA benefits, the need to stay abreast of changing guidelines is equally important because illnesses and conditions that previously didn’t qualify may now qualify.

That’s a primary reason why Cold War Patriots (CWP), as part of its work for its parent company Professional Case Management, hosts so many educational events throughout the year and offers routine benefits reviews so that workers can realize maximum benefits.

Consider all the important EEOICPA changes that took place in 2022 alone:

COVID now considered a presumptive illness

As a result of the DOL and medical community learning more about how different types of illnesses are linked with exposure to radiation and toxic substances, the number of covered illnesses under EEOICPA continues to grow. Currently, there are more than 4,000 individual illnesses that are eligible for EEOICPA benefits.

Until at least February 4, 2023, COVID-19 is also one of them. It has been officially classified as a presumptive illness if the claimant already has one or more illnesses linked to Covid.

Presumptive eligibility is a huge benefit for workers.  It assumes there is a link between someone’s work history and getting sick. This assumption eliminates a lot of work and hassle in trying to prove a link between your disease and your work exposure.

This latest change should come as no surprise given the potential long-term effects of COVID and the fact that a large percentage of nuclear and uranium workers already suffer from some type of respiratory illness.

The latest DOL Bulletin specifically states that contracting COVID-19 is a consequential disease assuming you have been approved for a medical condition that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined as being a high risk for becoming severely ill if you contract the virus. Some of the conditions are:

  • Many forms of Cancer
  • Chronic lung disease such as COPD or asthma
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Heart conditions
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Organ or stem cell transplants

If you’ve been approved for a medical condition that is not on the CDC list, you will need to submit a fully rationalized medical report from your primary healthcare provider stating how the covered condition is likely responsible for contracting COVID.

Addition of new SECs

Nuclear and uranium workers also benefit if they can be classified as part of a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC). These are uniquely defined categories of employees who have at least one of the 22 SEC cancers and have worked for a specific period of time at one of the SEC work sites. All SECs are localized to a time and place, such as someone who worked at a specific Oak Ridge site from 1955-1965, for example.

When the SEC concept was first introduced, there were only a handful of designated groups. By late 2022, as a result of more individual groups qualifying, there have been more than 100 SEC petitions approved. If you qualify for one of these approved SECs, your claim can be approved without having to go through the traditional, more time-consuming radiation dose reconstruction and causation determination process.

View a full list of approved/pending SECs here.

Extended RECA benefits

Workers exposed to radiation received good news in the summer of 2022 because the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed into law, a two-year extension of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). The RECA program and its benefits were to sunset in 2022 but are now extended until at least June 2024.

In 1992, RECA became law, providing cash compensation to workers who contracted cancers and other serious diseases as a result of their exposure to radiation from atomic weapons testing or employment in the uranium industry. To date, RECA has awarded more than $2.4 billion in benefits to more than 38,000 claimants.

The extension of the RECA program is part of the Downwinders Act which was introduced in late 2021. As part of this Act, efforts are underway to qualify more people for RECA benefits—not just those who worked at atomic testing sites, but also those community residents who were exposed to radiation simply by living “downwind” of the plants. There has also been discussion about raising the current one-time benefit of $50,000 to a higher amount.

Positive benefits changes thanks to advocacy work of CWP

Changes like this that enhance the benefits of nuclear and uranium workers don’t just happen. Rather, they are the result of concerted efforts of people and organizations that have dedicated their work to protecting the rights and interests of workers who sacrificed their health to advance the nuclear defense systems of our country. CWP is proud to be one of these dedicated organizations. We were on the front lines to make fulfillment of the EEOICPA promises a reality and are responsible for Congress designating the National Day of Remembrance to recognize the contributions of nuclear and uranium workers.

More recently, CWP played an active role in the RECA Working Group to secure passage of the two-year RECA extension. We are continuing to work to further extend RECA by another 19 years, expand downwinder eligibility, extend eligibility periods, and increase the amount of worker compensation to address inflation. We have already had more than 60 face-to-face meetings with Senators and House members to help advance these efforts.

Beyond our legislative work, we also provide free assistance to nuclear workers and their families, hosting community Town Halls and staffing our Help Center which consists of a team of experts (many of whom are former nuclear weapons and uranium workers) who are available to help you navigate the complex benefits filing process.

In 2022, CWP hosted hundreds of free benefits review sessions to help workers and their families understand new provisions under EEOICPA and ways they may qualify for added compensation and/or home healthcare services.

EEOICPA benefits continue to evolve

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t ever assume that things will remain status quo when it comes to anything related to EEOICPA. If you have an illness, you should investigate if it’s covered, even if it wasn’t previously, because the DOL is always adding more illnesses to the list of what’s covered.

It is in your best interest to keep reading, listening, and learning. CWP can help. To learn about the latest benefits and guidelines for criteria, visit coldwarpatriots.org regularly. Team members are also standing by at the CWP Help Center to answer your questions. Give us a call at 800-903-8989.