There Are Two Ombudsmen Who Assist Claimants

January 16, 2018

January 16, 2018

Created with Sketch. CWP

In an earlier blog, I mentioned that there are two Ombudsmen who assist claimants under the compensation program. This blog will focus on the Ombudsman for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Denise Brock.  NIOSH formed this position in 2006 and describes the Ombudsman’s responsibility is to help “individuals with a variety of issues about eh SEC [Special Exposure Cohort] petition process and the dose reconstruction process.” Denise has faithfully served this position since its formation.

I have known Denise for almost 15 years. We first came together with two other associations to form the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups. Both of her parents were former nuclear weapons workers. When the Program was in its infancy, she began assisting her mother with her survivor claim. Through that process she met hundreds of other claimants.  She decided to file a petition to add the Mallinckrodt site to the Special Exposure Cohort to assist those claimants. Her petition was successful and Mallinckrodt became the first non-legislated site to be added to the Cohort.

Despite her busy schedule she was gracious to answer a few questions about her role in assisting claimants.

CWP:  You have a lot of responsibility as the NIOSH Ombudsman.  What motivates you to keep going?

DB:  My love and respect for the former workers as well as their families. I found great joy in being able to assist every claimant I could.  I fell in love with them.  And quite honestly, and a personal opinion only, I believe God gives everyone a purpose.  I feel quite certain this is mine.  The benefits under the program are phenomenal but often claimants are either unaware of all that is available to them or find it too difficult to maneuver through the process alone.  Often claimants are ill or elderly and feel overwhelmed by all of the paperwork.  It is an absolute honor and joy to assist the claimant population.

CWP:  Can you give us a few examples of how you can help claimants?

DB:  Many times I am contacted by a claimant who has received a denial letter. I am able to review that denial letter as well as the entire case file electronically.  I have a very strong relationship with the Department of Labor.  This relationship creates tremendous team work.  I also conduct outreach meetings and workshops for claimants, advocates, consultants, authorized representatives and the general public to promote a better understanding of the program as a whole. I am a member of the Joint Outreach Task Force and as a group, we are hosting our first workshop for authorized representatives.

CWP:  Is there one initially denied claim that stands out which resulted in reversing the decision because of your involvement?

DB:  There is not really any one particular denied claim that stands out more than any other and I cannot reverse any decision alone.  It seriously takes teamwork and I could not do it without DOL.  But I can give you an example of a denied claim that was later approved. A survivor claimant contacted me and asked if I would mind reviewing her denial under Part B. She was a surviving granddaughter of a former worker. The claim had previously received a dose reconstruction and the probability of causation was below 50%. When she mentioned the site that her grandfather worked at, I knew it was an approved SEC site. My first assumption was that since it went through a dose reconstruction, the worker must have not met the SEC class criteria.

I immediately noticed that the worker was in fact within the SEC time frame so I thought he must have had a non-presumptive cancer. His diagnosis was cancer of the epiglottis. The case was sent to NIOSH for dose reconstruction by mistake. Cancer of the epiglottis is actually considered cancer of the pharynx, which is considered presumptive. Fortunately, I was able to have NIOSH send this back to DOL and the case was approved under both Parts B & E.

CWP:  Is there anything else you would like to tell the CWP members?

DB:  I would like to add that the advocate community is also part of the teamwork. I enjoy, respect and appreciate working with them. They offer tremendous support and their role is very beneficial to the claimant population.