DENVER (AP) – Federal officials met with hundreds of former employees of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility to outline the medical help they could receive under new rules.
The federal government has removed a number of bureaucratic hurdles for medical compensation for former workers exposed to radiation.
The meetings were held Wednesday and Thursday.
‘A lot of people have had their lives ruined,” Jerry Harden, 71, said during a meeting Wednesday, the Denver Post reported. “They deserve compensation.”
Harden, a former radiation safety expert at Rocky Flats, held a sign with red letters that read: “Justice for Rocky Flats.”
Under new rules announced last month, workers no longer have to reconstruct their personal histories of radiation exposure to qualify for medical expenses and a one-time benefit of $150,000.
Workers with at least one of 22 types of cancers; who worked at Rocky Flats at least 250 days between April 1, 1952, and Dec. 31, 1983; and contracted the disease within five years of exposure can now qualify for benefits.
Congress initially approved benefits for nuclear weapons workers or their survivors in 2000.
Rocky Flats, near Denver, was operated for the government by Dow Chemical and Rockwell from the 1950s until 1989. Workers manufactured plutonium pits for nuclear weapons. Clean-up began at the Superfund site in 1995 and was completed in 2005.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, an advocate for workers, expressed frustration at how long it took the government to remove the red tape.
“I fear that some people aren’t around to finally receive their benefits,” Beauprez said.
Rachel Leiton, director of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, responsible for handling claims, said 302 previously denied claims were being reviewed that likely will be paid under the new rules. It is impossible to predict, she said, how many new claims will arise as new illnesses emerge.
“It was a mess out there,’ said George Barrie, a worker at the plant from 1982 to 1989 who said he has health problems because of exposure to plutonium and another radioactive material. “None of the workers could talk about it. They were lied to. They were told it was safe.”
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