A Department of Labor program designed to provide compensation to federal employees exposed to toxic substances while working on nuclear weapons has seen a majority of its reopened compensation claims accepted. The reason for so many claims failing their first filing was due in large part to initial confusion about the necessary information needed to prove a claims case, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Dec. 7.

“According to DOL's Office of the Ombudsman officials, some claims may have been denied as a result of claimants not understanding the evidence required to support their claim,” the report said.

“Moreover, the Ombudsman's two most recent reports in 2015 and 2016 found DOL's letters to claimants requesting additional evidence or informing them of the final decision did not clearly explain the specific evidence needed or why previously submitted evidence was deemed insufficient. GAO's previous work also found deficiencies in the quality of a sample of DOL's written communication with claimants.”

The Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health recommended that DOL incorporate more information about toxic substances and their associated illnesses into the database it uses to determine compensation eligibility, but the agency chose not to add that additional data.

GAO recommended that DOL assess its training efforts to make sure that staff are providing claimants will all of the necessary information they need to correctly file claims and that they are communicating effectively with claimants. DOL neither agreed or disagreed with the recommendation.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program was passed into law in 2000 to provide medical and financial compensation to federal employees and contractors who had taken part in Department of Energy development of nuclear weapons and later became ill because of exposure to toxic substances.

The program has so far paid over $15 billion across more than 120,000 individual workers impacted by nuclear weapons work.