Denver company sues over changes to nuclear workers’ access to care

DENVER -- Janet Cook worked in the lab at Rocky Flats for 17 years and is now dealing with a laundry list of health problems.

“I see doctors two, three times a week, most the time. That’s my job now, going to the doctor,” Cook said. “There’s like 62 diseases that I have. It’s unreal.”

She lost her hearing, part of her vision, had multiple surgeries and strokes, and is now worried about how she is going to pay for it all.

In 2001, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act went into effect, allowing compensation for nuclear workers facing certain health issues. Cook has been filing claims through a division of the Department of Labor since that time, but says the process was long, stressful and lacked communication.

Cook reached out to Denver-based Professional Case Management to help with in-home health care. They provide services for nuclear workers and founded the Cold War Patriots, which advocates for workers.

“Oftentimes, they didn’t know that the work they were doing was so dangerous and [so] harmful to their health,” said PCM president Greg Austin.

PCM is now suing the federal government over rule changes set to take effect April 9, saying they violate constitutional rights, among other legal issues.

“Under the new rules, there’s a lengthy, roughly 36-step process that involves filling out forms, mailing them back and forth, before that care can start,” Austin said.

“Program that takes years to get compensation, they want us to die before they pay us?” Cook said.

The Problem Solvers reached out to the Department of Labor for comment about why the rule changes were necessary and was referred to OSHA, but have yet to hear back.

Austin says the process could take former workers more than 60 days just to file a claim.

A judge will hear arguments in federal court in Denver on April 4 to determine whether the rule changes should stay or go.

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