Federal Compensation Programs: Perspectives on Four Programs

GAO-06-230 Published: Nov 18, 2005. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2005.
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Since 1969, when Congress established the Black Lung Program as a temporary federal program to provide benefits for coal miners disabled by pneumoconiosis (black lung disease), the federal government has played an ever-increasing role in providing benefits to individuals injured as result of exposure to harmful substances. Although the Black Lung Program was initially designed to end in 1976, when state workers' compensation programs were to provide these benefits, it was amended to make it an ongoing federal program. Since that time, Congress has enacted several additional programs to provide benefits to individuals injured by exposure to such things as radiation and beryllium, a substance used in nuclear weapons production. In addition, the role of the federal government in many of these compensation programs has expanded over time. Most recently, legislative proposals have been introduced in the Senate and the House that would add asbestos to the list of substances for which federally administered compensation programs have been established. As Congress considers legislation to establish a compensation program for those injured by asbestos exposure, Congress asked us to provide information on four existing federal compensation programs: the Black Lung Program, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (RECP), and the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP). As requested, our objectives were to (1) provide information on the design of the programs, including their purpose, financing, administration, benefits, and eligibility criteria; (2) describe the length of time it took to establish the programs, the costs of establishing and administering them, and the initial estimates and actual costs of benefits paid to date; and (3) provide information on the claims histories of the programs, including the number of claims, approval rates, and the length of time it has taken to finalize claims and compensate eligible claimants.

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