Reprints Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain News
For full coverage, go to "Deadly Denial" series page: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/special-reports/deadly-denial/
Udall enlists in Charlie Wolf's War
Senator starts drive to help ex-nuke workers get compensation
By Laura Frank
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Call it Charlie Wolf's War.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall is mobilizing a coalition of senators and congressional members who have constituents like Charlie Wolf: former nuclear weapons workers who lost their health - and in some cases their lives - building the nation's Cold War nuclear arsenal.
Wolf, 50, died Wednesday. He fought brain cancer for more than six years - and struggled with a federal bureaucracy nearly that long to prove he deserved the compensation Congress had promised workers who mined radioactive metals, made them into bombs and tested the most powerful weapon on Earth.
"I'm pretty worked up about Charlie's death," Udall said Friday in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News. He noted Wolf's tenacity and constant attempts to help other sick workers around the country, even as he fought for his own life.
"Charlie is such an inspiration to many, but his case is also an example of what's wrong with the program," Udall said. "Enough is enough."
The Colorado Democrat said this war is being waged on multiple fronts. The coalition in Congress plans to ask President Barack Obama's administration for a "change in leadership" in the compensation program.
And Udall will introduce legislation soon to end the battle that Wolf and other sick workers have been fighting against the controversial federal compensation program.
The legislation will seek to streamline a constantly changing bureaucracy that sick workers say makes it impossible to prove they deserve compensation. Udall will call it the Charlie Wolf Act.
Wolf's family melted into tears in a mix of emotions Friday when they learned the legislation would be named in his honor. The tears increased when youngest daughter Stephanie, 23, added just one thought to the news.
"I wish he could have been here to know that," she said.
"I think he knows," her mother, Kathy Wolf, replied.
Udall said he met this week with Hilda Solis, Obama's pick for secretary of labor. He said problems with the compensation program were "at the top of my list."
The Department of Labor administers the compensation program, with help from the Department of Health and Human Services.
"I believe this administration will be a lot more sympathetic to these Cold War warriors," Udall said.
Congress created the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act in 2000 to aid nuclear weapons workers whose cancer and other diseases are linked to their jobs.
The program has been the subject of multiple congressional hearings and investigations.
A Rocky special report in July showed program officials had created an adversarial system that left workers or their survivors in limbo for years. Program officials kept information secret, constantly changed rules and even considered spying on some workers who filed claims.
Now, Udall said, Congress must take action to fix the problems.
"This may call for a Gordian knot- type solution where you just cut the knot," Udall said. "All the money spent processing claims and issuing denials, let's see if we can direct those resources to compensation."
Labor Department officials have said the program works well. They point out that more than $4.5 billion has been paid in compensation and medical care to nearly 36,000 workers or their families.
But most of the more than 173,000 people who've filed claims have never seen a dime.
"Replacing the leadership of the program has to be done," said Terrie Barrie, of Craig, a national advocate for sick nuclear weapons workers, including her husband, George, who machined beryllium and plutonium for atomic bombs at Rocky Flats.
"Without change, the people who've been making these decisions for the last seven years will continue making the same types of decisions."
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Nuke worker bill picking up support
Legislation seeks justice for victims of weapons race
By Laura Frank
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
After his brother's funeral Saturday, Rick Wolf started talking with a couple he'd never met.
He recounted how difficult it had been for Charlie Wolf to prove he deserved federal compensation for the brain cancer that the government eventually admitted was linked to work at U.S. nuclear weapons sites.
Charlie Wolf had become something of a celebrity as he battled brain cancer and the federal government to the very end of his life, determined to prove that he and other sick nuclear weapons workers were being denied aid that was promised them. His story was chronicled last July in a Rocky Mountain News special report, "Deadly Denial."
Nearly 200 people attended Wolf's funeral Saturday -- some of them folks who knew the Highlands Ranch man only through newspaper stories. At the service they celebrated the news that U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., plans to introduce the Charlie Wolf Act to reform the compensation program.
Beginning Wednesday, members of the state's congressional delegation will begin outlining legislation to improve the federal nuclear weapons workers compensation program.
And the delegation is not stopping there.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has asked Udall to work together on the legislation.
Top Senate Republicans are in the loop.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is one of those lawmakers. Alexander has twice co-sponsored legislation to improve the aid initiative, called the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.
Alexander will study Udall's legislation as he continues working with senators from both parties to improve the program, an Alexander aide said Monday.
The new legislation is expected to pick up where reform bills in both the House and Senate left off last session.
Those who have followed the plight of Wolf and other nuclear weapons workers and survivors have high hopes for the legislation.
That includes the couple who spoke with Charlie Wolf's brother at Wolf's funeral.
"You know," Melinda Lorenz said to Rick Wolf, "we had no connection to Charlie before today."
Lorenz and John Coles of Denver went to Wolf's memorial service after reading in the newspaper that morning about his life and the legislation named in his honor.
"I read the article and said we need to be there," Coles said. "It's important to support the years of service that people like Charlie Wolf have done. They were on the front lines of the Cold War."
Rick Wolf said he was touched by their gesture.
"It's an honor to be here," Coles responded. "And we'd like to be there for the celebration when the act is signed into law by the president."
On Wednesday, Colorado's congressional delegation will begin outlining reforms it wants in the compensation program for sick nuclear weapons workers from Rocky Flats, near Denver, and across the nation. Here is what some lawmakers -- both new and old, Democrat and Republican -- said about the work:
"I've been working with Sen. Udall since I took office to help make sure these workers receive the justice to which they are entitled. These individuals provided a valuable service to our nation, and they should receive the proper health care and benefits related to their service to our country. "
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden
"Under Sen. Udall's leadership, much progress has been made in cleaning up Rocky Flats and caring for its workers, but much work remains. I look forward to picking up where he left off and plan on introducing similar legislation in the House that will bring much-needed relief and compensation to these brave men and women who have suffered so much in service to their country."
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder
"I look forward to reviewing Sen. Udall's legislation. I'm sympathetic to the plight of the workers and will do everything I can to make sure that they receive all of the treatment and compensation they deserve."
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora
"The congressman has directed one of his senior aides to meet with members of Sen. Udall's staff to review the proposed changes to the legislation."
Catherine Mortensen, spokeswoman for Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs
"I have consistently supported efforts to compensate Rocky Flats employees who have sacrificed to keep our country safe."
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver
"Congressman Salazar and then-Congressman Udall have worked closely on this issue in the past, and he will continue to have a close working relationship on radiation compensation with Sen. Udall. ... He has watched many constituents get hung up in bureaucratic red tape while their health is in great decline, and he understands that we must work to fix this as quickly as possible."
Eric Wortman, spokesman for Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa
"Sen. Bennet will work closely with Sen. Udall and other members of the Colorado delegation to assure that Rocky Flats workers and their survivors are provided with the compensation they deserve. They put their lives on the line in defense of our nation and deserve fair and timely compensation for their sacrifice."
Michael Amodeo, spokesman for Sen. Michael Bennet.
- M.E. Sprengelmeyer
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