For many Americans, the Cold War is a distant memory or something read about in history books. But for thousands of workers who supported the war effort as an integral part of the nation’s nuclear defense system, it continues to be a bitter reality, as many are battling serious radiation-induced health problems from working in or near nuclear plants or uranium mines. According to experts, newly implemented reductions in benefits are making it harder for workers to get treatment for related conditions.
The push to develop superior nuclear capabilities — what would ultimately become the key to America’s success in winning the Cold War — took place throughout much of the 1950-1980s. During this time, thousands of workers, as well as residents in towns nearby nuclear plants and uranium mines, were involuntarily exposed to radiation, leaving many vulnerable to such life-threatening radiation-induced health problems as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. By the collapse of the Soviet Union and the easing of the arms race, it was too late to reverse the damage inflicted on workers’ health.
Numerous health studies conducted over the past 20 years document the full cost of this radiation exposure in terms of human life and adverse health effects, which include premature deaths for many, while others continue to endure painful symptoms. Not only are they battling the fallout of exposure to confirmed toxins (of which the adverse effects were not fully understood until more recently), but experts say they’re also facing an uphill battle with the US Department of Labor (DOL), which has implemented multiple health benefit reductions since April 2019.
“An act of Congress created the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which promised protection and health benefits to those who became ill after working in nuclear facilities and uranium mines,” said Greg Austin, president of Professional Case Management, the first and largest provider of home health care services to nuclear defense and uranium workers. “Many of these patients — patriots who served the country honorably — are gravely ill and cannot afford any delays or restrictions.”
The recent changes by the DOL include a reduction of what experts say is medically necessary case management nursing care from up to 15 hours per month to just 15 minutes per week, as well as increasing a preauthorization process from nine steps to 36 steps.
To stop the implementation of various DOL rule changes, Professional Case Management filed a lawsuit in March 2019, which is ongoing. The company also spearheads a number of educational and advocacy initiatives through its Cold War Patriots division.
More information, as well as resources for the nuclear and uranium mine worker community, can be found at coldwarpatriots.org.
Experts say that while it may be too late to reverse the health effects of radiation exposure, it is not too late to provide the workers impacted by the Cold War with the benefits they need to manage their resulting conditions.