Aug 30, 2007

Former lab worker heads advocacy office

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor County Editor

Loretta Valerio has been tapped to lead the newly established Office of Nuclear Workers Advocacy. Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Valerio to direct the new office, the establishment of which was passed in the 2007 legislative session and signed into law by Richardson.

Valerio, 49, previously worked as an Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (EEOICA) caseworker at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for some 10 years.

"Ms. Valerio brings important experience to help workers who suffer from illness incurred, while providing for America's security, get the compensation and medical treatment they deserve," Richardson said in a statement. "As DOE secretary, I pushed for the creation of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, and this office, as one of the first of its kind in the nation, continues my commitment these workers."

During an interview Wednesday from her new office in Santa Fe, Valerio said she worked at LANL with contractors Johnson Controls, Pan Am and Johnson Controls of Northern New Mexico. She also worked during the last six years as an EEOICA caseworker in Espanola with Paragon Technical services and the Eagle Research Group.

Richardson said because of all her experience, Valerio understands the complex process of applying, documenting and following up with the federal government.

"Gov. Richardson has directed me to help New Mexican nuclear workers get the health-care they need, and compensation they and their families deserve," she said.

In her ombudsman capacity, Valerio said she will act as a liaison between claimants, and the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Resource Center in Espanola, union officials, DOE contractors, retiree groups and others to provide assistance and guidance to those individuals who encounter obstacles in the adjudication of their claims.

There are currently 12,933 New Mexico applications filed with the Department of Labor, which includes uranium industry employees, current and former workers as well as eligible survivors of DOE workers, according to the governor's office.

The Office of Nuclear Worker's Advocacy opened Monday and Valerio said she has been busy contacting organizations, unions and health care and medical facilities to let them know the office is open and available to assist claimants who run into problems with the process. She said she plans to do outreach in the Los Alamos area in the next couple of weeks.

HB 779, establishing the Office of Nuclear Worker's Advocacy, was sponsored by Speaker of the House Ben Lujan. In a statement, Lujan said he believes it is the duty of the State of New Mexico to advocate and assist nuclear workers who have been exposed to toxic substances, which have adversely affected their bodies, livelihood and quality of life.

"The current system requires lay people to navigate through a difficult bureaucracy," Lujan said. "Now these workers and their families can be given the attention and assistance they truly deserve."

The office will act as a liaison for workers seeking compensation from the EEOICA. The EEOICA program delivers assistance, compensation and payment of medical services to eligible employees.

As Secretary of Energy, Richardson helped push the EEOICA through Congress, which he said has provided over $2 billion in compensation for nuclear workers across the United States.

The Office of Nuclear Workers is in Aspen Plaza at 1596 Pacheco St., Room 206 in Santa Fe. Call the office at 827-1636.

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