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Manual made jokes about sick atomic workers

CINCINNATI - Advocates for U.S. atomic workers sickened by radiation exposure say they're stunned that a manual used to train people who screen applicants for possible compensation and medical benefits featured character names lifted from horror movies.

The undated Labor Department manual, which offers case examples involving nuclear industry workers, referred to one hypothetical claimant as "Freddie Krueger," evidently taken from Freddy Krueger, the horrifically-scarred, homicidal villain of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies.

The manual's Krueger is reported as dying on Oct. 31 - Halloween. The example suffered from "depression, dementia and skin cancer."

A pathologist in a hypothetical dead worker's case is named Hannibal Lechter, an apparent reference to the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter of "The Silence of the Lambs."

Other pop culture references abound: Doctors treating patients in the case studies include Dr. Amanda Bentley (also a character on the series "Diagnosis: Murder"), and Dr. Marcus Welby (a genial family practitioner on the 1970s drama).

Another claimant is named after Jack Bauer, the hero of TV's "24."

Labor Dept. claims examiners, however, were typically named "Jane Doe."

Deborah Jerison, who heads a group that helps former atomic workers and their families pursue federal occupational illness compensation claims, said she recently received the manual in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Labor Department's Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, established in 2001, provides compensation and medical benefits for atomic workers whose illnesses are shown to have been caused by occupational exposure. To date, $7.4 billion has been paid in compensation and medical bills for more than 86,000 claimants.

Prior to the program, however, the Energy Department claimed that none of its workers was sickened by exposure to radioactive materials.

Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA)
Energy Employees Claimant Assistance Project

Jerison told Tom Beyerlein of the Dayton Daily News that the manual's jokey attitude toward nuclear workers who have suffered from cancer or other serious illnesses is "indicative of the disrespect that's shown to claimants" by Labor Department officials.

"This is a very dark subject and I can see where people would use humor to get through it, but this is bad," she said.

Jerison's father, physicist James Goode, worked at The Mound, a now-defunct nuclear weapons plant in Miamisburg, Ohio that produced triggers and detonators for nuclear weapons. Goode died in 1960.

Jerison said she helped her mother pursue a claim for years, but the $175,000 in compensation didn't arrive until after her mother's death. About three years ago, she used part of that money that had been divided among Goode's children to start the nonprofit Energy Employees Claims Assistance Program.

She had requested the claims training manual to gain information about the process from the government side.

The manual's use of fictional names was first reported by the Dayton Daily News.

David Manuta, a member of the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups, wrote to the Labor Department saying the references are examples of continued disrespect for claimants. The chemist worked at a Cold War-era uranium enrichment plant in southern Ohio.

He said Tuesday that he knows that "the younger generations" like to use humor, but he said it was out of place.

"It's absolutely offensive for those of us who have handled those nuclear materials," he said.

The Associated Press left messages with the Labor Department seeking a response.