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Talk to Terrie: EEOICPA Ombudsman Releases 2017 Annual Report to Congress
March 14, 2018
March 14, 2018
The Ombudsman recently released the 2017 Annual Report to Congress, https://bit.ly/2F2Vsna. This report provides the number and types of complaints and requests for assistance the office receives each year about the Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (DEEOIC). In 2017, over 700 individuals or health providers contacted the Ombudsman’s office.
Sadly, many of the complaints filed with this office in 2017 are the same that have been lodged in previous years. For instance, the Ombudsman often hears complaints from claimants whose claims were denied because they are not a covered employee or survivor under the law.
Other complaints brought to the Ombudsman’s attention also are restricted by the statute and cannot be changed except by an act of Congress for more discover here. The one I’d like to discuss in this blog is the complaints received about authorized representatives (AR).
I work with many ARs and admire and respect their dedication to their claimants, their tenacity, and their overall advocacy to improve the compensation program. I am humbled by the work they do day in and day out on behalf of a claimant.
When I first saw that the Ombudsman’s office received complaints about ARs I was concerned. Over the years I have heard of isolated reports where an AR charged more than the law allows. Fortunately, those reports were and are still rare. Instead, the Ombudsman’s report offers an interesting perspective about the low fees.
The law is very specific about what a person can charge to represent a claimant,
2 percent for the filing of an initial claim for payment of lump-sum compensation; and
10 percent with respect to objections to a recommended decision denying payment of lump- sum compensation.
This stipulation was included in the 2004 reform bill, fifteen years ago, when Part E of the program was created. The thought back then was that the low percentages would deter people from taking advantage of the sick workers or their grieving families because the legislation clearly was intended to provide timely, adequate and fair compensation for those who developed debilitating and often fatal diseases because of exposures to toxic substances.
The report explains that the low fees, in fact, can prevent some claimants from obtaining representation if the claim is difficult. For example, some policies require not only proof that a toxic substance was present in a facility’s building but that the worker was significantly exposed because of the length of time exposed and the intensity of exposure.
This is particularly difficult to prove for a clerical worker despite the office being just off the production area. Security guards at some facilities also have a hard time proving their case because the Site Exposure Matrix database does not show any toxic substances the guards would have been exposed to.
The report offers insight to other complaints and requests for assistance and is written in a fair and balanced manner. Congress, DEEOIC, claimants and advocates have a better understanding of the issues encountered with the compensation program.