The FY 2005 Defense Authorization bill (Public Law 108-375) contains several major amendments to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).
- The bill abolishes Part D of EEOICPA, administered by the Department of Energy (DOE) and providing assistance to nuclear workers in obtaining state workers' compensation benefits as a result of work-related toxic substance illnesses.
- In its place it creates a new Part E of EEOICPA, to be administered by DOL, providing federal payments instead state workers’ compensation assistance.
- Part E eligibility newly added for uranium workers covered by section 5 of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) administered by the Department of Justice.
- The bill also makes a number of other changes to Part B of EEOICPA, which will continue to be administered by DOL, and requires certain RECA payments to be made from the EEOICPA fund.
- Any claimant whose claim has been accepted under Part B (including by way of the SEC presumption) is presumed to have a covered condition.
- Any claimant whose claim has been accepted by a DOE Physician Panel is presumed to have a covered condition.
- Other claimants must establish that it is at least as likely as not that exposure to a toxic substance at a covered facility was a significant factor in causing or contributing to an illness or death.
Benefits - Employees
- Covered employees receive $2,500 for each one percent permanent impairment caused by covered conditions, as computed under the AMA Impairment Guides.
- They also receive compensation for wage-loss based upon one of two lump-sum amounts for each qualifying year (prior to their normal Social Security retirement age) in which their earnings fell below their average earnings in the three years before they first suffered a wage loss as a result of a covered illness.
- They receive $15,000 for any year in which they made less than 50% of their calculated average as a result of a covered illness and $10,000 for any year in which they made more than 50% but less than 75% of their calculated average as a result of a covered illness.
Benefits - Survivors
- Survivors (spouses and children who at the time of the employee's death meet dependency criteria) are entitled to $125,000 if a covered condition caused or contributed to the employee's death.
- Substantial periods of wage-loss by the employee before retirement age (an aggregate ten or twenty years) suffered by the employee can qualify a survivor for an extra $25,000 or $50,000.
- If an employee files a claim but dies from a cause other than a covered condition before receiving benefits, the survivors can elect either the benefits the employee would have received or survivor benefits.
- DOL is given 210 days to issue regulations and 210 days to commence administration.
- Until DOL commences administration, the DOE Physicians Panels will continue to operate; DOL can decide what else at DOE continues under Part D.
- DOE is required to turn over all the records to DOL and DOL is given authority to request information from DOE or its contractors and set a deadline for response.
- The legislation specifically provides for judicial review in district court, but requires a finding that a determination was arbitrary and capricious to overturn it.
- To the extent the Secretary determines it useful and practicable, DOL can prepare site profiles (exposure assessments) for DOE facilities, or can direct NIOSH to do so.
- The legislation also establishes, for three years, an Office of Ombudsman to provide information to claimants and advise DOL concerning additional Resource Centers and any other duties specified by the Secretary.
Part B Changes
- Workers who started work at private facilities that did DOE business after that activity ended are given coverage by EEOICPA if the facility is on a list ruled contaminated by NIOSH in 2003 or in a new report NIOSH has to issue.
- The bill also adds a radiation dose definition only applicable to those workers.
- The bill adds deadlines governing HHS consideration of petitions for additional classes of SEC employees.
- It reduces the period for Congress to cancel an SEC designation from 180 to 30 days.
- The bill provides that payments of section 5 RECA claims (for uranium workers) are to be made from the EEOICPA fund rather than the RECA fund.
- New York Resource Center – The Secretary is urged to establish an additional resource center in western New York/western Pennsylvania.