07 Aug Former Rocky Flats Plant Worker Receives No-Cost Medical Benefits After Nuclear Weapons Work

Aug. 7, 2017

St. Peters, MO – “Over the years people would say how tough it was to get approved [for EEOICPA benefits]. It was almost like the government was waiting for people to pass away and not take any action on it,” said Michael Huckaby, a former Rocky Flats Plant worker.

In 2000, the Department of Labor developed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). Through the EEOICPA, no-cost medical benefits are provided to qualifying atomic energy workers, as well as compensation for eligible workers and survivors.

Huckaby started work at Rocky Flats in 1982 as a metallurgical operator in building 707. There, he cast plutonium buttons in the foundry operation. Huckaby was aware of the different health risks associated with working at Rocky Flats, but within a month of work he had his first “reality check.”

One day while working in the glove box, Huckaby pulled his hands out to itch the side of his nose. Later, he found out the gloves he had his hands in were contaminated, meaning the side of his nose was contaminated too.

Nuclear Residues Repacking Glovebox, Building 440, Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, 2002. © A.W. Thompson

“It was a sobering experience right away, getting contaminated the first month I was there,” said Huckaby.

Fortunately, examiners did a nose swipe and his results came back negative with only a report of surface contamination.

“Gives you a good ‘anything can happen at any time’ out there. I was pretty cautious after that,” said Huckaby.

In another instance, while Huckaby was pressing plutonium with a wooden structure, he had a splinter come through on his middle finger. He pulled his hand out of the glove, saw his finger was bleeding and immediately went to medical.

“They couldn’t get it clean by scrubbing it so they had to core out a big chunk of my middle finger,” said Huckaby.

While Huckaby had a few accidents, he knew many others experienced worse. Despite that, he appreciated his work at Rocky Flats and said it provided a great living for him and his family.

Years later, Huckaby began developing an illness that affected his breathing.

“A lot of people thought smoking had something to do with it. It was the damnedest thing because I never smoked a cigarette in my whole life… something isn’t right here,” said Huckaby.

After testing at National Jewish Hospital in Denver, CO, Huckaby found out his exposure to beryllium while at Rocky Flats was the cause of his breathing issues.

Fortunately, the EEOICPA program provides no-cost medical benefits for those who have been exposed to beryllium.

Huckaby did not know much about the program, but after attending a meeting held by Atomic Resource Coalition (ARC) in Denver, CO, he decided to file a claim.

“[The process] went pretty quick. I went to ARC’s meeting in June and was approved just before Christmas,” said Huckaby.

ARC is a non-profit organization that assists current and former atomic energy workers, and their surviving family members, in filing for EEOICPA benefits. ARC Lead Specialist Alisha Rottger helped Huckaby through the claims process.

“Alisha had told me the steps to take and the people to contact. Without her help, I wouldn’t have known any of that stuff. It’s invaluable and I wouldn’t be here right now, being approved, without her help that’s for sure,” said Huckaby.

“I wouldn’t have got anything I now have.”

After leading him through the claims process, Rottger also assisted Huckaby in setting up an appointment for an impairment rating – another step in the process of obtaining benefits.

Huckaby advises, if any workers are having health issues, consider the EEOICPA and what ARC can do for them.

“You’re not losing anything by checking into it and seeing if there might have been something caused by working with plutonium or uranium or any of the stuff out there,” said Huckaby.

“ARC knows the ropes, they do a great job, thank you guys.”

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