Jan 31, 2009

One morning in the middle of a conversation Charlie Wolf suddenly found himself unable to speak. He could understand what was being said to him, but whatever he tried to say came out as gibberish. His wife drove him to the emergency room while he struggled to remain conscious. That was over six years ago.

Today Charlie is in a better place and the world is a lot emptier. Goodbye Charlie. Many of us have a few letters to write and will keep you in our thoughts as we write them.

Open letters on special occasions - after my death

Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News

Charlie Wolf's friends and family - and likely some who never met him but were inspired by his spirit - will gather today for his memorial service.

And some might be surprised to hear from Charlie himself.

Wolf, a former manager at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver, became something of a local celebrity for beating the odds against brain cancer, the stock market and the federal government.

Ever the project engineer, Wolf had organized a file filled with letters during his nearly seven-year illness. Most were penned at least two years ago, before he lost the ability to write.

Wolf, who died Wednesday, had marked each letter to be read on special occasions: his daughters' graduations, weddings, all the important moments he knew he might miss.

He also wrote for the little moments, such as the letter for his wife labeled: "Kathy, Read when you're feeling really bad."

Today, his family will read his funeral letter.

It will be a mixture of thanks, humor and spirit - quintessential Charlie.

"You knew he loved you," said one of his three daughters, Charlotte, 26. "But to read it now is really nice. He was our hero."

Wolf, who lived in Highlands Ranch, was a hero to many others, too.

There are the dozens of fellow nuclear weapons workers. He helped some prove they deserved medical and financial aid because their work building the nation's Cold War nuclear defense made them sick.

There are hundreds of people who were inspired by the two books he wrote. Each chronicled how he survived recurring brain cancer, a bone- marrow transplant and years of experimental treatment, all with humor and a zest for life.

There are thousands more who read about him in the Rocky Mountain News and The Wall Street Journal. He appeared in both last July: The Journal wrote about how his brain cancer might actually have sparked a savantlike ability to beat the stock market.

The Rocky told the story of how he beat the odds to survive more than six years with brain cancer that was supposed to have killed him in six months. It showed how Wolf needed the help of a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, his congressman and even his insurance company to overcome the hurdles of the troubled federal program for sick nuclear weapons workers.

Wolf finally won half the compensation he believed he deserved. He was denied the rest shortly before he died.

But he never gave up.

"What a hero," said his doctor, Edward Arenson of the Colorado Neurological Institute in Englewood.

"He was someone very special. And so is his family."

Arenson said Wolf's willingness to try experimental treatments for his brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, will help others in the future.

"He wanted to help people," said his wife, Kathy Wolf.

While his family cherishes their letters from Charlie, there is another letter that leaves them feeling disturbed. Just weeks before Wolf died, the U.S. Department of Labor informed him it planned to deny him the final portion of compensation for his brain cancer.

If he disagreed with the decision, the letter said, he should write back within 60 days.

Wolf had not been able to write for two years.

His wife, Kathy, responded on his behalf. No, she wrote, they didn't agree with the Labor Department's decision. The government had failed to address multiple issues Wolf and his team of experts first raised during a hearing on his case nearly two years to the day before he died.

She asked the Labor Department to document its responses to Wolf's expert testimony.

On Jan. 21, one week before Wolf died, the Labor Department sent a form letter in return. It was addressed to Kathy Wolf, but started with a puzzling: "Dear Mr. Mr. (sic) Wolf." It made no reference to any outstanding issues. If you have additional evidence to submit, the letter said, please send it within 20 days.

Wolf had submitted thousands of pages of evidence during the more than six years he fought for full compensation. Now, his wife Kathy wonders, what could the Labor Department possible want?

"Now that Charlie is dead, are they going to make me start all over?" she asked, noting that some widows Charlie helped had to do just that.

But that worry is for another day. Today, his family will relish the letters he left for them, and the impact he had on the lives of friends, family - and even strangers.

frankl@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5091


* The public is invited to a celebration of Charlie Wolf's life at 2 p.m. today at the Denver Marriott South, 10345 Park Meadows Drive, Littleton. Donations may be sent to the Colorado Neurological Institute, thecni.org/donations.

[See also Udall enlists in Charlie Wolf's War.]


Anonymous said...

Sounds like what LANS will be dealing with after people start committing suicide because of the way they are treated and abused at LANL. I guess Seestrom can once again say, "sometimes good people have to go down for the good of the institution." Yeah team!

Anonymous said...

This guys death won't effect my bonus this year, will it?

- Mikey

Anonymous said...

"Now that Charlie is dead, are they going to make me start all over?" she asked, noting that some widows Charlie helped had to do just that. (Article)

Americans helping to defend their country as loyal, hard working, honest workers and they get treated like this by DOE? This is truly sad. What is the country coming to?

Anonymous said...

It is truly pathetic how honorable people are treated by the Government now that the job of winning the cold war is over. I suppose veterans know this feeling full well. It is shameful! Bechtel, UC, NNSA, and DOE are complicit. Shame on the lot of them.

Anonymous said...

5:42 pm: "It is shameful! Bechtel, UC, NNSA, and DOE are complicit."

Huh?? the only government agency dited was trhe Department of Labor. And how can UC possibly be involved??

Anonymous said...

Let me spell it out for you, asshole, this same sort of thing goes on right here in Los Alamos. People by the hundreds are denied rights for beryllium exposure, plutonium exposure, pay equity, and so forth. The new management, and to a lesser degree the old, UC management, treat people like shit, because they can. The DOE, the NNSA, UC, Bechtel, LANS are all complicit. Get it? If not, you're next. Of course you may be next whether you get it or not.

Frank Young said...

Many (most?) people who are exposed to radioactive and toxic materials never know it. Illness may not surface for days, weeks, or even years. Even if they make the connection, how do they prove it?

The Department of Labor compensation program may sound fair if you've never tried to use it. Once you have tried it's pretty easy to see what it really is, a program designed to shift the terrible cost of nuclear worker exposures onto the workers and their families.

The Department of Labor will not lift a finger to help you find out what you have been exposed to. Even though they are empowered by law to do so. They will, however, spend a fortune creating a rationale for denying your claim.

DOE, NNSA, and the management contractors all benefit from this - at the expense of the worker. And yes, it happens at Los Alamos too. Charlie Wolf was just one of thousands of nuclear weapons workers tossed aside and left to fend for themselves. He stood up and fought courageously. He should be an example for us all, sick or not. Let's not turn our backs on each other, let's help each other fix this problem.

Anonymous said...

Well spoken, Frank.

Anonymous said...


11:28 is correct. You summarized the problem quite succinctly. EEOICPA was intended to help sick nuclear weapons workers obtain medical and monetary compensation for illness that are related to toxic exposures. The Federal agencies, so far, have failed these claimants. I will not bore your readers with all the details. If they are interested, they just need to read the Rocky Mountain News special report, "Deadly Denial" to understand the issues. There's too many to go into here.

But, I will encourage everyone who reads this blog to contact their legislators. Ask them to request the Senate and House Labor committees to hold legislative hearings on EEOICPA. It's a simple thing to do. This is a nationwide problems and does not just affect the workers from LANL, but every facility across the country.

Legislative hearings will determine what in the law needs to be changed to get the compensation promised to the claimants, as Congress intended.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me. And thanks, Frank, for your support and your dedication.

Terrie Barrie

PS - I hope I didn't misspell anything.

Frank Young said...

Here is a link to the report Terrie mentioned: Deadly Denial

Thanks Terrie!

Anonymous said...

"I guess Seestrom can once again say, "sometimes good people have to go down for the good of the institution." Yeah team!" (4:13 PM)

When did Seestrom make this comment? Good people should never have to go down for the good of an institution.

A good manager values employees over the meaningless labels given to an institution. It's the good employees who make for a fine institution, and not the other way around!

If Sue is really on record of making this stupid comment, then she has no business being and AD at LANL.

Anonymous said...

And Seestrom still treats her "little people" as expendable objects at her disposal for use as stepping stools on her way up the company ladder.

Anonymous said...

I have a different perspective on EEOICPA. It has, in fact, paid out tens of millions of dollars to claimants. Most of those getting money have fit into the "special cohort" category, which means that if you have certain types of diseases and can prove that you worked at a DOE facility where the conditions existed that could lead to that disease, you get paid. If you don't fit into the special cohort group, then you have to "prove" causation, just like you do in any other type of claim or legal case. It can be very difficult to do. For instance, if you had lung cancer, was it caused by your working at a DOE facility, or the fact that you smoked for 30 years?

I have a friend at Oak Ridge who has a medical condition that could be related to his having worked at K-25 as an engineer for many years. He didn't file a claim. Why? Because his mother died of the same disease, and she had never been to any DOE site.

Not sure what the answer is here. More and more people get cancer every day. 99% of them have never worked at a DOE site. How does the government decide that someone's cancer was caused by exposures at a DOE site, when there are thousands of others with the same cancer who have not worked at any hazardous industrial site?

and, BTW, for all you bloggers. DOE, the labs, and their contractors (not UC, not LANS, etc) now have no dog in the EEOICPA fight. Sorry to disappoint you.

Anonymous said...

"A good manager values employees...[blah, blah, blah].

Spoken like someone who has never been a manager!

Anonymous said...

my dad died recently of brain cancer (former LLNL employees who worked in the plutonium facility). my mom applied for and received $275,000.00 tax free from the government. Took a few months to get the paper work completed and receive the compensation check.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous on 2/2/09 11:58 AM has it 100% correct. The rest of you need to stop complaining.

Frank Young said...

11:58 has it partly right. Millions have been paid to claimants, but you don't have to pay many claimants to get to that number. Many more millions have been denied claimants.

Also, special exposure cohorts only cover claimants with specific types of illness. If you aren't "lucky" enough to get the right cancer you are not part of the special exposure cohort.

And finally, DOE, the labs, and their contractors (UC and LANS, etc) DO have a dog in the EEOICPA fight. See my comment at 2/1/09 10:03 AM. I speak from personal experience.

Anonymous said...

One assumes that the "special cohorts" are chosen based on likelihood of contracting specific cancers (or other diseases) based on job assignment. If the likelihood of contracting the disease is less, then the presumption of causality should be weaker. Seems reasonable to me.

Frank Young said...

It sounds reasonable because it is reasonable. I'm not arguing against special exposure cohorts (SECs), I'm saying they don't cover all (most even?) cases. They are not based on job assignment, by the way. They are based on a lack of information needed to complete a flawed process known as dose reconstruction. The whole dose reconstruction thing is being used backwards. It can be conclusive in cases of extremely high exposures, but it's not science to use it to disprove causation in typical nuclear worker exposures. That would be more correctly described as government fraud, waste, and abuse.

Anonymous said...

Looks like last year's layoffs over at LLNL are about to cause some age discrimination legal disputes for LLNS:

100 Former Lawrence Livermore Lab Employees File Complaints Alleging Illegal Age Discrimination

OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- On February 4, 2009, the Law Firm of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer filed Complaints of Discrimination on behalf of 100 clients against Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS), the private company co-owned by Bechtel and the University of California that operates the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, for age discrimination in massive layoffs that took place last year. The complaints were filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. (DFEH).

On May 22 and 23, 2008, LLNS laid off approximately 440 employees, the vast majority of whom were the Lab's most senior, experienced employees. California law prohibits discrimination in the workplace against any employee who is over the age of 40 years old, based upon that employee's age. Over 100 of those employees have retained Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer to challenge the layoffs. These former Lab employees include administrative assistants, maintenance workers, engineers and senior scientists. The 100 employees are filing individual claims that will be consolidated for trial. This will not be a class action.

The former employees contend that they were selected by the Lab to lose their jobs because they were older workers (over 40) who were approaching their retirement age. As a result, these former employees are out of work at a stage in life when finding new employment is particularly challenging. Most of these workers will suffer a severe financial hit in the amount of retirement income and benefits they will eventually receive because of their forced, premature "retirement."

The laid off workers contend that the Layoff selection process utilized by the Lab was illegal. The former employees contend that the Lab did not follow Federal Law by seeking voluntary separations to eliminate the need for any layoffs.

Furthermore, approximately 94% of those laid off were over the age of 40, making them "protected employees" pursuant to California's anti-age discrimination laws. The Lab ignored its own polices to target these older workers because of their advanced salaries and approaching retirements.

Anonymous said...

This is "11:58" again. The payment program was shifted from DOE to DOL. All of the funding for paying claims comes from the DOL budget. There are some administrative requirements for DOE and its M&O contractors, but they are minimal, and are not impacted by DOLs decision to pay or not pay.

I'm not defending DOL. I'm just saying that the federal government either has to require some showing of causation, or just write a check to everyone who applies. If workers (or former workers) with cancer were to file some sort of lawsuit, they would have to prove causation. I don't know enough about the process to know if DOL could or should do more to help people establish their claim.

Frank Young said...

Of course the government has to require some showing of causation. That is a near impossible standard to meet, however, when the government will not release records of exposure to the claimant.

DOL could and should do more to help people establish their claim.

Take a look at the text of the EEOICPA law. Here are a few excerpts:

"§ 7384w. Subpoenas; oaths; examination of witnesses

The Secretary of Labor, with respect to any matter under this part, may—

(1) issue subpoenas for and compel the attendance of witnesses;
(2) administer oaths;
(3) examine witnesses; and
(4) require the production of books, papers, documents, and other evidence."


"§ 7385s-10. Administrative matters

(a) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary shall administer this part.

(b) CONTRACT AUTHORITY.—The Secretary may enter into contracts with appropriate persons and entities to administer this part.

(c) RECORDS.—(1)(A) The Secretary of Energy shall provide to the Secretary all records, files, and other data, whether paper, electronic, imaged, or otherwise, developed by the Secretary of Energy that are applicable to the administration of this part, including records, files, and data on facility industrial hygiene, employment of individuals or groups, exposure and medical records, and claims applications.

(B) In providing records, files, and other data under this paragraph, the Secretary of Energy shall preserve the current organization of such records, files, and other data, and shall provide such description and indexing of such records, files, and other data as the Secretary considers appropriate to facilitate their use by the Secretary.

(2) The Secretary of Energy and the Secretary shall jointly undertake such actions as are appropriate to retrieve records applicable to the claims of Department of Energy contractor employees for contractor employee compensation under this part, including employment records, records of exposure to beryllium, radiation, silica, or other toxic substances, and records regarding medical treatment.

(d) INFORMATION.—At the request of the Secretary, the Secretary of Energy and any contractor who employed a Department of Energy contractor employee shall, within time periods specified by the Secretary, provide to the Secretary and to the employee information or documents in response to the request."

Both sections seem powerful tools should DOL choose to use them. They do not. Instead one hand washes the other, the intent of congress is subverted, and the medical and financial costs are shifted to the workers and their families.