Left-out nuclear workers can get aid

People who maintained grounds, did construction work, rode fire trucks or shuffled paper in what now is known as the Grand Junction Office of the U.S. Department of Energy have been declared eligible for medical coverage of radiation-related diseases.

Many of those workers were deemed ineligible for compassionate coverage because they were federal employees or were considered not to have been exposed to radiation, even though they suffer from conditions linked to radiation exposure in others.

The federal government, however, now has recognized those people, estimated to number 250, as eligible for compassionate compensation under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act.

The person in whose name those workers stand to receive benefits will never see them himself.

Alfred J. “Blackie” Enos died in 1993, little more than a decade after he retired, capping a 30-year career with the government’s various federal agencies and contractors dealing with nuclear energy. He worked in Grand Junction as well as Monticello, Utah, and Grants, N.M.

Enos suffered from stomach cancer, one of 22 forms of cancer for which energy workers can be compensated.

Enos’ daughter, Cindy Enos-Martinez, a former Grand Junction mayor and current School District 51 Board of Education member, began pursuing compensation for her father’s illness in 2002, but without success.

It wasn’t until 2009 that she was guided to petition for coverage for her father, Enos-Martinez said.

Her first application sought to expand coverage under the 2000 act for laborers, grounds workers, painters and the fire chief — her father — who worked for at least 250 days, Enos-Martinez said.

“I just wanted to get in there and apply for what I thought he deserved, and a lot of others,” Enos-Martinez said.

At one point in the process, Enos-Martinez was called by an official with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and asked whether she would expand her petition to cover all employees at the Grand Junction office.

“Why not?” Enos-Martinez said. “They deserve it.”

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act first recognized the contributions of uranium miners to the nation’s Cold War effort and provided a $50,000 compassionate payment to those suffering from radiation-related illnesses, such as cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, kidney failure and other conditions. A decade later, Congress recognized millers and haulers as being eligible for the compassionate payments, which were doubled to $100,000. Congress also approved the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act to provide compassionate payments to others in the nuclear industry, such as workers at Rocky Flats, and to provide medical care for conditions traced to radiation exposure.

To date, the Labor Department, which administers the compensation act, has paid more than $8.3 million in compensation and medical benefits to 66 claimants connected with the Grand Junction Operations Office. The program has paid out more than $7 billion nationwide.

The Labor Department will offer details about the special cohort from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday in a traveling resource center at the DoubleTree Hotel Grand Junction, 743 Horizon Drive.


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