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Program helps with medical compensation for nuclear workers

Many of our neighbors go to work every day at the Idaho National Lab.

Regulations have changed over the years and safety measures are more mature, but the reality is many employees have worked around high-risk materials.

There is help for those workers.There are multiple programs through the Department of Energy that provide free medical screenings to all current and former DOE employees, depending on the type of work and exposure history.

Throughout eastern Idaho’s modern history, the INL has been there. As the years go by, the occupational side effects of working closely with toxic substances begin to show up.

“It is dangerous work and the protection is better for the workers, but there are still accidents,” said Terri Barrie.

Barrie is the founding member for the Nuclear Worker Advocacy Group.

She said resources like Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program helps current and former employees with medical expenses for their work-related illnesses.

Workers can be compensated up to $150,000 for a medical case, be given medical monitoring, or receive free medical care.

“It’s a great program to honor the workers who have put their lives in danger protecting the country,” said Barrie.

But before claims can be approved, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has to look at the worker’s history.

NIOSH was in Idaho Falls Wednesday, working with employees who might have been exposed to hazardous material.

“The first thing we have to do is what we call reconstruct or estimate what radiation dose this person received while working,” said Stuart Hinnefeld, NIOSH Director.

NIOSH has reconstructed the radiation dosage for more than 1,500 cases.

The visit from the health safety group is timely. In November 2011, 16 INL employees were exposed to plutonium.

In April, two of those employees filed a joint “whistle-blower retaliation” lawsuit claiming they were unfairly punished after trying to speak about the exposure.

Advocates encourage all nuclear workers to get a medical screening, even if you don’t feel ill or show symptoms.

For more information, contact the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation at (866) 888-3322.

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