Denial by Design: US Government Avoids Compensation to Ill Workers

The Rocky Mountain News has launched a 3-part series on the plight of the workers who formerly worked to assemble the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Many of those individuals now have significant health problems, and the government has lied, concealed, and dissembled in a drive to avoid paying any form of compensation.

During the Clinton administration, the Republican Congress joined with the President to create a system for compensating the workers, but to no avail. As the years past, the agencies in question and the present administration have put more and more roadblocks in the way of these people getting any kind of medical or financial help. No matter your feelings regarding the Cold War, the plight of these workers will pull at your heart strings. And the actions of the government will, and should, exasperate you.

Some of the more infuriating instances:
Many ill workers have become mired in a process so adversarial that top program officials at one point considered putting some of them under government surveillance—spying on them.

For half a century, the federal government’s official policy was to fight any workers who claimed job-related illness, often spending tens of millions in tax dollars annually to do so.

The Rocky’s investigation found that the labor department has delayed the cases of sick nuclear weapons workers or their survivors across the nation by giving misleading information, withholding records essential to their cases, failing to inform them of alternative paths to aid, repeatedly claiming to have lost evidence sent by ill workers and making requirements for compensation impossibly high.
The question, as it often does, boils down to one of responsibility. Who is responsible for the illness that plagues the workers of places like Rocky Flats? But more then that, once a party has taken responsibility, how far and how fast should they run from actually following through on their responsibility? The government, in this instance, seems to feel that they should be avoiding responsibility as long as they possibly can, and, once they have admitted to responsibility, now begins the avoidance of the consequences of that responsibility. And they do it at considerable expense to the tax payers.

Nathan T. Swanson
Summer Intern
JD Candidate, 2009
University of Denver