DEEOIC’s Frozen Universe

Something shady is afoot with DEEOIC.  Surprise!

 

DEEOIC stands for the US Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Compensation.  They are responsible for compensation workers from the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons facilities if they developed an illness as a result of an exposure to a toxic substance, including radiation.

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard complaints about claims being delayed, years in fact.  So, it caught my attention when three authorized representatives (AR) contacted me.  The first one was a few months ago but the next two were just last week.

 

The explanations provided for the majority of the delayed claims was because the responsible claims examiner simply dropped the ball or for some other reason that the claim fell through the cracks.  It happens, I guess.

But one AR shared with me a troubling account of what happened with one claim.

 

The claim was filed by surviving children in November of 2018.  Nothing was done on the claim despite the AR’s multiple inquiries to the District Office (DO).  The AR understood that this claim was transferred to four different claims examiners in the DO.

 

In August of 2019, the AR was assured that the claim would receive the personal attention of the District Director’s staff.  Again, when nothing happened the AR contacted the DO.  The AR was then informed that the case was sent to a different DO the end of March 2020!

 

Needless to say, the AR was not happy especially since there was no notification from DEEOIC to the claimant or AR about this transfer.

 

The AR pressed the issue and learned that this claim will not be decided until the end September of 2020 – almost 2 years after the claim was filed.  The reason?  DEEOIC decided that this claim did not merit immediate attention.  Instead, DEEOIC determined that this claim had “basically, the least important priority”.

 

DEEOIC even has a name for this type of delaying claims.  A claim delayed under this circumstance is referred to being in the “Frozen Universe”.  That designation is as morbid as the previous training manual where a fictitious claimant was identified as Freddie Kruger.

 

If that isn’t enough to get you upset, the AR was told that DEEOIC has an internal document titled, EEOICPA Operational Document - which lists the manner in which the status of the claims are assigned, and the time frames to complete the claims process - has been given names such as "Frozen Universe".

 

Apparently, DEEOIC now decides when a claim gets processed regardless of the age of the claim. “Oh, you’re only the children of a worker who died from being poisoned at work. Your claim isn’t important enough to work on right now.  Go to the back of the line.”

 

That’s outrageous!  It’s a slap in the face of every surviving child who experienced the death of their parent attributable to an occupational disease.  DEEOIC has no right to delay a claim because they think the claim is not important enough.

 

The only claims that should have priority is for a worker who is terminal.   DOL has a process in place for those claims and for the most part it works well.

 

The other major problem is that this is an internal document and the neither the claimants nor the ARs have access to it.  This has been a long-standing issue with the advocates.  In fact, the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health (ABTSWH) made a recommendation to have these internal policy memos be provided to the public in a “…database searchable by topic area.”  It was a great idea but DEEOIC shot it down.

 

For almost 20 years there has been serious issues with DEEOIC’s implementation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, as amended.  They are in desperate need of rigorous oversight.  Advocates and claimants alike had hoped this would happen when Congress established ABTSWH in 2015.  When the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health (ABRWH), which advises the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), votes on whether to accept or reject NIOSH’s position on an issue NIOSH accepts ABRWH’s decision.  That doesn’t happen with DEEOIC.

 

And that must change.  This example of the Frozen Universe is a fine example why DEEOIC needs to be reigned in; be held accountable for their policies; and be completely transparent with their policies.