Coal Respiratory conditions Worker health and wellness Workplace exposures

Senate subcommittee hears update on ‘black lung’ benefit process

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Washington – Coal miners seeking benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act wait hundreds of days for their cases to be heard, despite government efforts to speed up the process, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) claimed during a July 22 hearing of the Senate Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee.

Claimants can wait an average of more than 500 days for their cases to be assigned a judge and be heard in court, said Casey, who suggested the system is “stacked against” ill coal miners.

To reduce the backlog, the Department of Labor plans to hire new administrative law judges to hear cases related to black lung disease and introduce other efficiencies, Christopher Lu, deputy secretary of labor, said during the hearing. However, the number of claims is likely to increase, Lu said. Recent reports point to evidence of a coal company-funded doctor allegedly making biased diagnoses, and miners whose claims had been denied in part based on those diagnoses would be allowed to re-file, Lu added.

To ensure accurate entitlement determinations, DOL is exploring a rulemaking that would address the disclosure of medical evidence.

Black lung, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is a deadly lung disease caused by respirable coal mine dust.