Weapons And Wildlife

In this Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019 photo, a sign hangs from a fence at the head of a trail at the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge in Arvada. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter on Thursday introduced a bill to extend the U.S. Department of Labor’s ombudsman through 2025, a move intended to further assist former workers of the old Rocky Flats nuclear facility in Jefferson County.

“These workers risked their lives to protect our nation and helped end the Cold War,” Perlmutter said. “This has been one of my top priorities because we must ensure these patriots receive the compensation and care they need and deserve as they deal with the health consequences and other side effects related to their service to our country.”

The ombudsman helps former employees through the claims process authorized by the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. The law gave Department of Energy employees access to medical benefits and compensation if they worked at certain facilities.

If Congress does not pass Perlmutter's Nuclear Workers’ Ombudsman Extension Act or act in some other fashion, the ombudsman’s office will sunset in October 2020.

A 2014 report from the office found the compensation program struggled to meet the needs of those who applied for assistance.

"We frequently hear from claimants who suggest," the ombudsman wrote, "that it was only when the issue became urgent (i.e., they were days away from having a service discontinued) or when they escalated the matter, that someone finally started working with them to resolve the matter."

More than half a million Americans worked at nuclear weapons facilities during the Cold War. Some of them developed illnesses from exposure to radioactive and toxic materials. The Rocky Flats Plant encompassed 6,240 acres during its operation from 1952 to 1989. Remediation of the site’s hazards took place from 1990 to 2006. A 1983 study found that brain cancers were elevated among the employee population at Rocky Flats compared to similar demographics in the U.S.

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