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EEOICPA Origin Story – Part One

May 25, 2022

May 25, 2022

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CWP Blog

America’s research, development, production and testing of more than 70,000 nuclear weapons since World War II largely kept the peace, but also contributed to illnesses and death for more than 100,000 nuclear weapons and uranium workers.

Especially with the competition with the former Soviet Union known as the Cold War, from the 1950s through the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Americans worked in mines and mills, labs and factories scattered throughout the United States. Indeed, it is estimated that all together, more than a million men and women from the Manhattan Project until today have made American’s nuclear defense possible.

Yet the creation of the world’s deadliest and most powerful weapons required radioactive materials, highly toxic substances and work processes and procedures that often put workers’ health in jeopardy.

For most of the America’s nuclear weapons history, when a worker became sick from radiation or toxic exposure, it was up to each individual worker to seek diagnosis, treatment and possible compensation as best they could. But since nuclear weapons contractors were generally held harmless by government order or legislation, sick workers for the most part just had to get by as best they could.

By the 1990s, with the Cold War winding down, it became obvious to many in the nuclear worker community that they were suffering a disproportionately large number of cancers and other illnesses that had their origins in America’s nuclear weapons complex. Under then Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, himself a former New Mexico governor who knew well his state’s experience with the hazards of both uranium mining and nuclear weapons lab work, specialized hearings were held throughout the country to learn more from nuclear and uranium workers themselves, the exposures they suffered and the many related cancers and other illnesses that ensued. Those hearings evolved into Federal legislation, and by October 30, 2000 the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) we signed into law. After a slow first couple of years of the program’s administration by the US Department of Energy, the law was amended in 2004 (Part E) to assign the US Department of Labor to process worker claims, as well as to expand covered conditions to any illness shown to have a reasonable probability of causation related to those workplace exposures.

The scope of the program, originally thought to provide benefits for just a few years, turned out to identify many unmet needs for compensation and health benefits. As of April of 2022, more than 115,000 individuals or their families have been compensated, or used medical benefits with a total value of more than $20 billion dollars. The program will continue to pay compensation and medical benefits as long as claimants present successful claims. That’s an important reason Cold War Patriots, and its Outreach Help Center strives to connect worker claimants and their families with the resources they need to be successful under the program.

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