PDT Staff Writer
Scores of people mingled, picked up information, asked questions and developed contacts to help them learn more about their benefits at the annual Resource Fair sponsored by Cold War Patriots, Thursday at Clay High School.
“We’re here each year to try to connect former nuclear complex workers, such as Piketon (Uranium Enrichment) employees with the various resources and the programs available,” Tim Lerew of Professional Case Management, the National Volunteer Coordinator for Cold War Patriots, said.
Lerew said some 20 years ago nuclear weapons workers worked under secret circumstances for national security reasons and even members of their families did not know what they did on the job.
“Unfortunately, working around Uranium Hexafluoride (a compound used in the uranium enrichment process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons) or tricholorethylene (a chlorinated solvent used for vapor degreasing), or other toxic materials, there would always be some percentage of workers who would have an illness that would be job-related,” Lerew said. “For many people it was cancer and for others it was chronic beryllium disease, or exposure to nickel, lead, mercury, trichlorethylene, cleaning solvents, and so it was not just cancers. But we had folks develop pulmonary or lung problems, kidney difficulties, peripheral neuropathy, and we’re learning over time that it might be a 75-year old former worker who has not been at the site for 15-20 years, but they can come down with illnesses that might be work-related.”
Lerew said it is the Cold War Patriots’ mission to reach out to the community and tell these people who have suffered illness that was work-related that there is a benefits program in place. He said around 13-14 years ago there was a movement by advocates around the country to lobby Congress about the need for compassionate care.
“It was bipartisan and it got passed in the Clinton White House and was signed in the Bush White House, both sides of the aisle,” Lerew said. “And this program in the last 11-12 years that it has been in existence has paid out a little over $8 billion all over the country to former workers or their survivors, as well as free medical care.”
Lerew said one of the people involved in handling those cases is Portsmouth Attorney Franklin T. Gerlach, former Mayor and City Manager of Portsmouth, whom he said has been involved in some 600 cases, each of which, Gerlach says, is a case he takes personally.
“Some of them coming in here now have a nurse with them all the time. They didn’t have that — couldn’t afford it — and now you are able to get them on the program. They get the card. And they are entitled to medical services,” Gerlach said. “And that’s the biggest and greatest part of this. And now when they are getting on their oxygen, and they get the proper nutrition, when they come in here they look like a whole different person. They now have hope in their life. Before, everything was going wrong - they didn’t have any money - they were losing their house - and other things were happening to them. They get on the program and they start getting healthy and they have a reason to be living. It makes you feel good when you look at them and they are looking up and they are smiling, it makes you feel really good.”
Gerlach said he always looks forward to the Cold War Patriots’ Resource Fairs each year.
“When you come here you are able to meet the people who actually worked there (Piketon), and get to discuss things with them on a social basis,” Gerlach said. “A lot of times when they have claims that are pending, or they are thinking of a claim or they have a right to submit a claim, it gives you a chance to talk to them in a casual atmosphere and they feel more free to talk to you and it doesn’t cost them for the consult.”
The U.S. Senate has designated October 30 as a National Day of Remembrance for Cold War era workers.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org