The Department of Energy (Energy) and its predecessor agencies and contractors have employed thousands of workers in the nuclear weapons production complex. Some employees were exposed to toxic substances, including radioactive and hazardous materials, during this work and many subsequently developed illnesses. Subtitle D of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 allows Energy to help its contractor employees file state workers' compensation claims for illnesses determined by a panel of physicians to be caused by exposure to toxic substances in the course of employment at an Energy facility. Energy began accepting applications under this program in July 2001, but did not begin processing them until its final regulations became effective on September 13, 2002. The Congress mandated that GAO study the effectiveness of the benefit program under Subtitle D of this Act. This testimony is based on GAO's ongoing work on this issue and focuses on three key areas: (1) the number, status, and characteristics of claims filed with Energy; (2) the extent to which there will be a "willing payer" of workers' compensation benefits, that is, an insurer who--by order from, or agreement with, Energy--will not contest these claims; and (3) the extent to which Energy policies and procedures help employees file timely claims for these state benefits.
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