'Birdcage' cases slow for some
By CHANTAL ESCOTO
Sam Samsil thinks his father's radiation death â€” which was caused by
at the Clarksville Base nearly 50 years ago â€” did not go completely
His mother filed a claim with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness
Compensation Program (EEOICP) about five years ago, and it was finally
recently. Samsil â€” a Birmingham, Ala., attorney who grew up in
said he never gave up on the claim for his mother's sake because it was
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.
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
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,"
D.M. Samsil's case was determined through a long and complicated
called "dose reconstruction," the dosage report his son is referring
scientific calculation is conducted through the National Institute for
Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The dose reconstruction determines the amount of radiation a worker
have been exposed to depending on where he worked and for how long. If
dose reconstruction is rated at 50 percent or above, then the claim
The Clarksville Base at Fort Campbell was one of 13 nuclear facilities
around the United States during the Cold War. The Birdcage was
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
But for many employees who kept quiet for so long, their secrets died
them. To make matters more complicated, many of the files and employee
at the nuclear storage facility were lost or "disappeared."
The EEOICP has paid out more than $500 million in cash and benefits
2001 to Department of Energy Atomic weapons site workers or their
Tennessee. Those sites include Oak Ridge, Clarksville Base at Fort
Chattanooga and Erwin. A total of $2 billion has been paid nationwide.
the Clarksville Base whose claims have been approved received nearly
But that doesn't mean a whole lot to Bobby Murphy and 441 other people
have filed for the lump sum. Murphy submitted his claim on behalf of
in 2001. It's been denied four times even though he has affidavits and
proving his father worked at the Clarksville Facility as an
"Most everybody my father worked with are deceased. It seems they're
waiting for everyone to die," he said. Murphy's problem with the
process is that officials say his father wasn't exposed to enough
get the compensation. But at the same time the EEOICP will not accept
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
that I'd be arguing with the Department of Energy about where my father
Persistence is key
Peter Turcic, director of the EEOICP, said he feels for the families,
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
Turcic said the majority of the claims were denied for illnesses not
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
they think their sickness or that of a relative was caused by working
atomic weapons site.
"We encourage people to file if they worked at (Clarksville Facility)
an illness. If they fill out Part E (of the claim application) that
all illnesses. If they fill that out we make a determination if they
entitled to benefits."
Debbie Bratton has done extensive research on the Birdcage and said she
gone before the appeals board on behalf of some families seeking
She said tenacity is the answer.
"I believe there are many people who have not filed because they either
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
not exist without the persistence of many former workers of nuclear
facilities, particularly those in Oak Ridge, who invested years to get
government to adopt legislation."
Chantal Escoto covers military affairs and can be reached by telephone
245-0216 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.