From popular dramatizations of the Manhattan Project to countless books published on the topic, the U.S. nuclear program has been almost uniformly portrayed as a heroic enterprise that has helped America remain a world power. The sad reality is that over 100,000 workers were sickened constructing the nation’s nuclear arsenal, with some victims continuing to suffer prolonged battles with cancer they contracted from exposure to the radioactive materials. Many of those employees who should be receiving workers’ compensation were in Colorado at Rocky Flats.
Bombshell report exposes major health risk to U.S. workers
As detailed in a recent McClatchy report entitled “Irradiated: The Hidden Legacy of 70 Years of Atomic Weaponry,” the U.S.’ nuclear program has left over 33,000 Americans dead from workplace exposure and its complications. Lest one think these fatalities were products of a bygone era in which naiveté or innocent ignorance regarding radioactive material led to health problems, statistics indicate that more than 186,000 workers have been exposed since 2001 alone. It seems clear that supposedly stricter safety standards in the current era have not been effective in protecting workers from accidents and routine exposure to radiation.
Government attempts to avoid compensating victims
Almost more shocking than the rampant nature of these incidents is the government’s heartless response. Workers that received workers’ compensation have received far less than one would expect in light of the virtual death sentence to which many of their cancer diagnoses amount. With an abysmal record of compensating fewer than half of the injured workers who applied for compensation, the federal program for compensating the employees who built the nation’s arsenal appears largely to be a failure.
Sadly, this experience is hardly uncommon in the workers’ compensation system either, which forces injured employees to fight tooth and nail just to receive the benefits to which they have a right. For most injured workers, their chances of recovery in the system are greatly improved when a knowledgeable workers’ comp attorney assists them in navigating the process.
Can lawmakers fix a broken system?
In retrospect, it appears that the federal officials’ estimates of injury and illness were woefully inadequate. The government apparently ballparked the program’s annual cost at $120 million, to serve only 3,000 people each year. In reality, the program has cost over $850 million annually to provide compensation to over 53,000 workers over the course of the last 14 years alone. While lawmakers are finally working on a bipartisan plan to help workers moving forward, the workers who have already been sickened and shortchanged in the process also deserve justice.