Expert Voices: How the Office of the Ombudsman can assist you with your claim

December 12, 2023

December 12, 2023

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Malcolm Nelson

By Malcolm Nelson, Former EEOICPA Ombudsman

Most people do not contact the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of the Ombudsman (the Office) merely to register a complaint or grievance. Rather, they contact the Office because they need help with their claim. DOL’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC), the agency that administers the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA), as well as the other agencies involved with this program have developed a number of useful tools/resources. However, some people are not aware that these tools/resources exist, while there are others who find it difficult to locate and/or utilize them. As a result, people at every stage of the claims process approach the Office seeking assistance and guidance with their particular issues and claims. Within its statutory limits, the Office makes every effort to provide the needed assistance and/or guidance.

The Office offers a wide range of knowledge and support that may be difficult to obtain elsewhere and is designed to help claimants with questions that may be challenging. This includes a knowledge of the services and resources offered by the various agencies involved with the program. Thus, as appropriate the Office may direct individuals to the Resource Center, District Office, or other agency/office that can best assist with a particular issue or will contact that organization to obtain needed information. Other assistance and guidance provided by the Office includes:

  • Providing information on the various steps within the EEOICPA and the EEOICPA claims process
  • Assisting claimants in understanding documents associated with the program
  • Helping claimants obtain a current status of their claim
  • Offering suggestions on where to search for needed information
  • Helping individuals understand legal, medical and/or scientific terms and concepts
  • Serving as a sounding board for feedback on the process

The Office truly means it when it says that there is no such thing as a “silly” or trivial question, concern, or need. They are uniquely positioned to help, and we encourage everyone to contact them.

Another key feature of the Office is its independence. DEEOIC administers the EEOICPA. Yet, while both DEEOIC and the Office are within U.S. DOL, the Office is independent of DEEOIC. In fact, the law creating the Office provides that the Secretary of Labor will take appropriate actions to ensure the independence of the Office within DOL, including independence from other officers and employees of DOL engaged in activities relating to the administration of EEOICPA. This independence is critical for those who want to remain anonymous when registering a complaint or grievance. This independence also ensures that concerns are accurately discussed in the Office’s annual report.

However, there are some limits to the assistance that the Office can provide. While the Office can assist you in understanding the program, it does not make the decision on claims, and does not have the authority to modify or change decisions. Similarly, the Office does not have the authority to make DEEOIC alter or change a decision. Likewise, the Office cannot change the law and does not lobby Congress. Moreover, while the Office will relay your concerns to the appropriate agency and will try to obtain answers to your questions, the Office is not an advocate, and will not take on the role as an authorized representative or attorney. In addition, as noted earlier, the Office is a small staff. Yet, in spite of its size, the Office endeavors to help all who contact them for assistance.

In 2021 Congress amended the EEOICPA to provide for the permanent extension of the Office. This ensures that claimants and potential claimants with complaints, grievances, requests for assistance, as well as compliments will continue to have an independent office that stands ready to provide them with assistance and guidance with EEOICPA claims. It also ensures that there will continue to be an office that values listening to what they have to say.

Do you have questions about your White Card claim? Contact us today – we’re here to help!

Please call our Outreach Help Center at 888.903.8989 or complete the form below so we can help you with your questions.