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Miners Can Wait Years for Black Lung Benefits, Congress Listens

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Jessica Lilly

 A retired coal miner who suffers from black lung disease has urged Congress to help clear a backlog of claims of fellow miners who have the disease. Princeton native Robert Bailey testified at the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace hosted a hearing Tuesday. The hearing focused on the struggles miners face while seeking black lung benefits. Lawmakers say the testimony on Capitol Hill was meant to do three things:

1.       Highlight the struggles that black lung claimant’s face while seeking benefits.

Testimony referenced an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity that revealed some ‘cut throat’ methods by Coal industry doctors and lawyers. Those methods helped defeat and delay benefit claims from the growing number of miners suffering from black lung and their widows.

2.      Review the actions taken by the Department of Labor to help improve the situation for miners.

Panelists testified the DOL has instructed reviewers to assist those miners without council and help them keep health records up to date in order to streamline the process.               

3.       Discuss a growing number of backlogs at the Dept. of Labor.                                          

Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin noted that that there is an estimated 14,000 backlogged cases.

"I hope and trust that we are going to be providing the kind of support leagal support and other wise so that we don’t just wait until they all die off," Senator Harkin said during the hearing. "They deserve compensation and they deserve it now."

Sen. Robert Casey said he is concerned that sick miners have to wait years for their cases to be decided. Casey chaired the hearing. He is a Democrat from Pennsylvania.

Senator Rockefeller, and Manchin along with other members of congress to are working on a bill that would address some of the systematic problems in the Black Lung system by expanding a miners’ access to medical evidence; creates a program to help miners secure legal representation when applying for benefits; and, makes grant funding available for research into the disease. 


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