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Former workers at the closed Pinellas County plant meet with federal officials and U.S. lawmakers over claims.
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007
After a hearing with the Department of Labor last week, a former employee of a now closed Pinellas County nuclear weapons plant says she is hopeful her compensation claims for illnesses associated with her employment will be awarded.
Jackie Brown, 49, a paralegal for the Pinellas County Attorney's Office, worked 17 years at a U.S. Department of Energy plant at Bryan Dairy and Belcher roads. She had a hysterectomy after she developed cancer of the uterus at age 29 and later was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy.
Brown is one of hundreds of former employees at the Pinellas County plant - operated by General Electric, Lockheed Martin and Martin Marietta - who are seeking financial compensation for their illnesses and payment of medical bills.
They have become increasingly angry at what they say is unfair treatment and have taken their frustration to the media and politicians. Last week, more than 100 former workers attended a meeting with the staff of several area political leaders.
Brown requested her hearing after her application for compensation was turned down three times. The meeting, held in Tampa last week with a Department of Labor representative, was productive, she said.
"One of the things was the information that we presented to him, the documentation, the data. It really made an impact this time and you had the opportunity to talk to somebody," she said.
Brown, who was accompanied by a lawyer, presented a package of supporting material.
"I didn't try to be technical, but I pointed out my facts," she said.
Brown and other former workers are basing their claims on the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, passed to compensate nuclear weapons workers who became ill as a result of exposure to radiation and various toxic substances.
Seminole residents Dave Bossard, 66, and his wife, Marilyn, were longtime employees at the plant that made components for nuclear weapons. As president and secretary of the Quarter Century Club - workers who worked at the plant for 25 years or more - they have served as a focal point of information.
They provided the Department of Labor with contact information for hundreds of employees when it organized a meeting with former workers in 2005.
"They came to us and gave us the hope that we were going to get compensated for our illnesses and medical bills," Bossard said.
Instead, many have been disappointed and others have died, he said. "A lot of these people worked for me," said Bossard, who retired as a supervisor after 34 years.
"We became like family. When I started going to funerals, I said I've had enough of this. The program to me was more or less a fraud and when you pay one person for skin cancer and the next person with skin cancer doesn't get paid, how do you justify that?"
Roberta Mosier, deputy director of the division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, said 1,362 claims have been filed on behalf of 614 Pinellas plant workers.
Some claims, she said, have been filed by relatives of employees who have died.
Mosier said the agency is trying to handle complaints.
Joanne Newton is still mourning for her husband, Elbert Newton Jr., who worked at the plant for 25 years and drove chemicals from Orlando.
Newton, a clerk at Gibbs High School, said her husband applied for compensation before he died seven months ago, but after his death she was told she had to start from the beginning.
"It's depressing," she said.
Betsy Wood's husband, James, is also dead. He worked for 15 years at the plant.
"He was diagnosed in January '05 with a brain tumor and then we started filing in May of '05," she said.
The claim was denied.
"Basically, we're at the end of ropes. They have put the burden of the proof on us," said Dudley Tichenor, 59, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Last week's meeting with representatives of area political leaders has given some former workers hope.
"It was a very positive meeting," Bossard said.
Brown, who did not attend the meeting, is optimistic because of her hearing.
"I think that the evidence actually spoke for itself this time," she said. "It wasn't how I felt or anything, it was actual factual information."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 892-2283.
By the numbers
Pinellas County weapons plant
1,362 claims filed on behalf of 614 workers.
82 payments made
$138,000 in medical bills paid
$10.9-million in compensation
Nuclear weapons plants nationwide
156,190 claims representing 65,243 workers
36,223 payments made
$3.3-billion total payout
200+ facilities nationwide
[Last modified December 15, 2007, 21:42:39]