Aug 30, 2007

New state office helps sick nuclear workers

By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
August 30, 2007

Pojoaque woman will act as liaison between workers, agencies

A Pojoaque woman who is a former Los Alamos National Laboratory worker has opened a new office aimed at helping sick Cold War workers process illness claims with the federal government.

Loretta Valerio began work Monday in Gov. Bill Richardson’s Office of Nuclear Workers Advocacy. Her role is to act as a liaison between the workers, the U.S. Department of Labor and other groups involved in the program that pays sick workers and their survivors for illness and medical bills related to their work at national laboratories, for example.

Valerio most recently worked at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Española Resource Center. That office can help with initial claims, but Valerio’s role is targeted more at helping people who have problems or need extra help with claims.

“They can call me if it’s an initial claim,” Valerio said. “I may be able to help them. I may refer them to the resource center. … But if it’s reopening a claim or if it’s requesting a reconsideration on a claim, then they can be referred to this office.”

Workers who can establish they have radiation-induced cancers can receive a $150,000 payment, plus medical bills. Those with occupational illnesses caused by toxins can receive up to $250,000 and medical expenses. Survivors may qualify too.

Some individual workers have to prove their illness by showing how much radiation or toxins they were exposed to. Groups of others are covered by so-called “special exposure cohorts,” which could make the burden of proof easier for the claimant.

“The claims process is not hard,” Valerio said. “Filing the claim is not hard. Sometimes obtaining records, medical records, employment records, you can run into obstacles. But there are resources to assist those individuals in finding what they need to help in the adjudication of their claim.”

Valerio said tens of thousands of people in New Mexico may qualify for the program.

The money to pay for the program was sponsored by House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé. Luján is a former ironworker at the lab and pushed a $125,000 appropriation through the Legislature earlier this year.

“I believe that 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,” Luján said in a news release. “The current system requires lay people to navigate through a difficult bureaucracy.”

To date, 6,184 claims have been filed for Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Of those, 518 awards were made for a total of more than $51 million, according to the Department of Labor.

A total of 12,943 New Mexico applications have been filed with the Department of Labor, which includes former uranium industry workers, Valerio said.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act was passed by Congress in 2000. Richardson, then secretary of energy, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., were key supporters in that effort. U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has also pushed for more workers to be covered by the program and to preserve old medical records that could have been destroyed. Those records, located at Los Alamos Medical Center, could help some workers establish their claims.

“Ms. Valerio brings important experience to help workers who suffer from illness … get the compensation and medical treatment they deserve,” Richardson said.

For more information, contact Valerio at 827-1636. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Española Resource Center can be contacted at 505-747-6766.

Contact Andy Lenderman at 986-3073 or

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The good news is people now have an office to go to for help. The bad news is it's probably not going to help much. But if it gives people a sense of hope, and makes them feel good even if just for awhile, it's done its job. The same job Congress does when it holds hearings about Los Alamos in other words.

--White Theoretical Fysicist (phonically speaking)