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'Birdcage' cases slow for some

topic posted Sat, October 21, 2006 - 8:58 AM by  Richard
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'Birdcage' cases slow for some
By CHANTAL ESCOTO
The Leaf-Chronicle

Sam Samsil thinks his father's radiation death — which was caused by
working
at the Clarksville Base nearly 50 years ago — did not go completely
in vain.

His mother filed a claim with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness
Compensation Program (EEOICP) about five years ago, and it was finally
approved
recently. Samsil — a Birmingham, Ala., attorney who grew up in
Clarksville —
said he never gave up on the claim for his mother's sake because it was
the right
thing to do.


"It's been a long road for my mother," Samsil said. The maximum amount
awarded for each case is a $150,000 lump sum payment. His father, D.M.
Samsil, died
in 1996 with unexplained skin cancer.

Some people are still waiting and hoping their claims will be approved
—
about 440 workers of the Clarksville Base nuclear storage facility and
their
families are waiting for government compensation.

"We had to appeal several times, but it would seem that we have been
successful, and the dosage report was positive in my father's case,"
Samsil said.

D.M. Samsil's case was determined through a long and complicated
process
called "dose reconstruction," the dosage report his son is referring
to. The
scientific calculation is conducted through the National Institute for
Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The dose reconstruction determines the amount of radiation a worker
could
have been exposed to depending on where he worked and for how long. If
a worker's
dose reconstruction is rated at 50 percent or above, then the claim
usually
is awarded.

The Clarksville Base at Fort Campbell was one of 13 nuclear facilities
set up
around the United States during the Cold War. The Birdcage was
constructed in
1948 by the Atomic Energy Commission, and its operations were highly
secretive. Even to this day workers at the Clarksville Facility are
reluctant to talk
about what went on at the nuclear weapons storage because of such
intense
security.

But for many employees who kept quiet for so long, their secrets died
with
them. To make matters more complicated, many of the files and employee
records
at the nuclear storage facility were lost or "disappeared."

Compensation slow
The EEOICP has paid out more than $500 million in cash and benefits
since
2001 to Department of Energy Atomic weapons site workers or their
families in
Tennessee. Those sites include Oak Ridge, Clarksville Base at Fort
Campbell,
Chattanooga and Erwin. A total of $2 billion has been paid nationwide.
Workers at
the Clarksville Base whose claims have been approved received nearly
$1.2
million.

But that doesn't mean a whole lot to Bobby Murphy and 441 other people
who
have filed for the lump sum. Murphy submitted his claim on behalf of
his father
in 2001. It's been denied four times even though he has affidavits and
records
proving his father worked at the Clarksville Facility as an
electrician.

"Most everybody my father worked with are deceased. It seems they're
just
waiting for everyone to die," he said. Murphy's problem with the
compensation
process is that officials say his father wasn't exposed to enough
radiation to
get the compensation. But at the same time the EEOICP will not accept
proof
Murphy has that shows his father worked extensively in the "hot" areas.

"It doesn't make a lick of sense," he said. "I never thought in my
lifetime
that I'd be arguing with the Department of Energy about where my father
worked."

Persistence is key
Peter Turcic, director of the EEOICP, said he feels for the families,
but the
dose reconstruction is still pending in many of these cases. He advises
workers and families to be patient and to continue appealing,
especially if new
information becomes available such as a changed medical condition or
death.

Turcic said the majority of the claims were denied for illnesses not
covered
under Part B of the program, which includes radiation cancers and lung
diseases such as silicosis and beryllium.

"NIOSH has their processes and procedures," Turcic said, citing 133,000
claims filed nationwide. The EEOICP is still actively seeking people to
file if
they think their sickness or that of a relative was caused by working
at an
atomic weapons site.

"We encourage people to file if they worked at (Clarksville Facility)
and had
an illness. If they fill out Part E (of the claim application) that
includes
all illnesses. If they fill that out we make a determination if they
are
entitled to benefits."

Debbie Bratton has done extensive research on the Birdcage and said she
has
gone before the appeals board on behalf of some families seeking
compensation.

She said tenacity is the answer.

"I believe there are many people who have not filed because they either
feel
they don't have a chance or they are intimidated by the paperwork
requirements," Bratton said in an e-mail.

"I cannot over emphasize the need for persistence. The very legislation
would
not exist without the persistence of many former workers of nuclear
facilities, particularly those in Oak Ridge, who invested years to get
the federal
government to adopt legislation."

Chantal Escoto covers military affairs and can be reached by telephone
at
245-0216 or by e-mail at chantalescoto@theleafchronicle.com.
posted by:
Richard
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