They may not have been soldiers, but men and women who worked in the nuclear weapons industry are still suffering the long-term effects of the Cold War. And they may not know they’re entitled to government benefits if their illnesses can be traced directly to their employment in the nuclear field.
Fortunately, they no longer have to suffer alone. Three area agencies specialize in connecting workers with benefits and home health care. All three have nurses throughout the Western Slope to assist affected workers.
Help is here
Pam Wilson, a nurse case manager with Nuclear Care Partners (NCP), visits Dean Quamme twice a week.
As an engineer at Hanford in Washington in the mid-1960s, he supervised a team that operated the chemical separations plant that produced plutonium.
“In those days, we didn’t think about low-level exposure. It was the high-level exposure you had to worry about,” he said.
After a lifetime of work as a general contractor, Dean and his wife, Suzanne, moved to Grand Junction, where he worked at the Grand Junction Operations Office, a former uranium refinery until 2004.
Dean has been an NCP patient for two years. The Quammes are so impressed by Wilson that they consider her part of the family.
NCP, a nurse-owned company, has operated here for six years. Tyler Skeen, vice president of marketing and business development, likens finding ailing workers to finding a needle in a haystack. Many don’t realize their condition is related to previous work.
“Rocky Flats alone had 60,000-80,000 workers, and some of those may be affected,” he said. “There is a lack of education and a lot of misconceptions among doctors and claimants.”
John Kelley, NCP’s community outreach manager, said the company spends its time getting former workers the information they need and educating the medical community on recognizing and caring for them.
He said it can take four to eight months to start receiving benefits once the paperwork is completed and accepted.
NCP acts as a resource to point patients in the right direction for benefits.
“Patients must fill out the paperwork through a lawyer or authorized representative to get the Medical Benefits Identification card,” Kelley said. “Once they have the card, we can work with them, but we can’t file for them.”
Going the extra mile
Critical Nurse Staffing, Inc. (CNS) also provides home health staffing from aides who take care of housework and shopping to round-the-clock nursing.
Vickie Becoat, community outreach liaison, said that once patients are approved and CNS has approval letters from doctors related to covered diagnoses, “the family doesn’t pay one penny. The Department of Labor pays for care.”
She also said that family members who have been taking care of loved ones who fall under DOL guidelines can be compensated for their work, as long as they fill out the proper paperwork and gain government approval. So a wife whose husband has been affected by a career in the nuclear field can receive payment for a certain number of hours per week she spends caring for him, once her husband becomes a patient of CNS.
Professional Case Management (PCM) Marketing Communications Manager Shannon Porter said that PCM has been providing in-home care for more than 30 years. The company began working with Cold War veterans 15 years ago.
“Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) in 2001. PCM served the first client benefiting from this program in 2002,” she said.
In fact, she said PCM was the first company in the nation to specialize in quality in-home care for beneficiaries of the EEOICPA program.
The company provides all levels of care, from occasional visits to check vitals or do case management, all the way up to round-the-clock skilled nursing. Since many former workers have cancers and lung diseases, PCM caregivers are trained and skilled to care for those types of illnesses.
Porter said that the company goes the extra mile to help former nuclear weapons and uranium workers through its membership organization, Cold War Patriots.
“The CWP connects these former workers to the resources they need to learn about the EEOICPA program and how to apply for benefits, and regularly holds educational town halls and resource fairs to connect the members to these resources,” she explained.
Though the process of applying for a lump sum compensation and other benefits can be grueling, it’s well worth it for those who have spent years dealing with the aftereffects of
their service to America, and with the help of any of these agencies, it can be less challenging.
National Day of Remembrance
In 2009, the U.S. Senate designated October 30 National Day of Remembrance, recognizing the men and women who supported our country’s defense.
NCP recognizes these Western Slope citizens at a special ceremony from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at Grand Junction’s Las Colonias Park.
CNS staff, nurses and clients will gather at 1114 N. First St. in Grand Junction for a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Former nuclear workers are invited to a barbecue afterward.
Nuclear Care Partners
Critical Nurse Staffing, Inc.
Professional Case Management
EVENTS & WORKSHOPS
October 17, 2 p.m.
Mesa County Library, 443 N. Sixth St.
Nuclear Care Partners hosts this free resource workshop to help former AEC Compound and uranium workers access the federal benefits they’ve earned to compensate for their exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals during their work on behalf of the U.S. defense. This workshop will cover:
- How to File or Refile a Successful Claim: Have you been denied? Learn why cases get denied and how to file a successful claim.
- What To Do With Your Monetary Award: Find out how to plan for your financial future and protect your mon- etary award with estate planning, wills and trusts.
- Home Care Questions You Should Ask: As home care companies approach you about using your health benefit, learn what questions you should be asking.For more information, call 361-3405.
When she isn’t writing, she teaches writing workshops and edits both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. She facilitates the Colorado West Writers’ Workshop and belongs to the Authors’ Guild. Visit her website for more information and links to her books and classes.