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Talk to Terrie: The Road to EEOICPA

October 19, 2020

October 19, 2020

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A Short History of EEOICPA briefly mentions the role the sick workers played in getting the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act passed in 2000.  Janet Michel, a dear friend and fellow advocate, was kind enough to share with me her memories of traveling to Washington, DC during the summer of 2000.

“It was brutally hot,” she said.  “We took several trips to DC and each trip lasted three to five days.”  Janet and her fellow workers paid their own way.  They received no outside funding to help with the cost to travel from Oak Ridge, TN to our nation’s capital.

One needs to remember that these individuals were sick.  Two of the group were diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease (CBD).  Ms. Michel recalled the long days of walking from office to office which was difficult for some.

If you have never been inside a House or Senate office building, they are huge.  Often after meeting with a Congressional office on the third floor in the northwest corner of the building the next meeting would be in the basement office located in the southeast corner of the building or on the other side of the Capitol.  It is quite the hike.

Obviously, Ms. Michel and her group, including Janine Anderson and Harry Williams, as well as other workers and their supporters from across the country made an impact and many legislators were sympathetic to their cause.  But, as with any issue, there were Congressional members who were not as supportive.  She explained that the lack of enthusiasm was quite obvious.

There was a time when, instead of meeting the staffer in a conference room they were escorted to a supply room for the meeting.  Another time the staffer had them climb the stairs in the Rotunda to meet in a small room which was like an oven.

She recalled that there would be times when they arrived at the scheduled time that they were kept waiting while others would be ushered in right away.   In one instance, the group was directed to a conference room and asked to wait for the Senator.  They waited and waited for almost four hours.  Sure, they could have left and visited other offices, but they were asked to stay as the Senator would be with them shortly.  They decided to stay put.

Unbeknownst to the group, the Senator’s staffers at that time were working on the legislation in a different room. While the group was never involved in the crafting of the language, they were glad that Congress took their concerns seriously enough to instruct their staff to spend a lot of their time building the legislation.

Ms. Michel returned to D.C. in 2004.  It was then that I first met her in person. She and I walked those long halls together to advocate for the reform legislation.

I am amazed and thankful for the hard work these sick workers put in, despite their illnesses, to make EEOICPA the law of the land.