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Federal program may help Pennsylvania black lung victims

Pennsylvania mine workers who filed claims related to black lung disease between January 2005 and March 2010 may be able to take advantage of a new federal program to make compensation more likely. The program, which will be launched as a pilot initiative, will apply to miners who worked underground for 15 years or more. Applicable miners must also be presumed to be totally disabled due to black lung disease.

According the General Accounting Office's 2009 study, many miners don't have financial and other resources required to build a case for their claims based on medical evidence. The GAO says this creates a lower probability miners will be successful with their claims. The pilot program would entitle miners to third-party medical exams, which would be paid for by the program as long as miners also submitted to exams performed by company physicians.

According to a senator from Pennsylvania, there are other issues he would like to see addressed for miners. He says the current backlog of black lung claims means miners are waiting up to 429 days for their claims to be reviewed and adjudicated. According to reports, the pilot program is active immediately and could become permanent.

The Labor Department recently posted a blog post stating that 75,000 miners have died of black lung disease since 1968. Benefits paid for successful claims average between $625 and $1,251 each month. Reportedly, the United Mine Workers of America is pleased with the pilot.

In addition to government involvement, a strong understanding of worker's rights and medical proof can bolster a claim related to any occupational disease. Understanding the steps necessary to proving an illness is the first step in seeking compensation.

Source: Pittsburg Post-Gazette, "Program aids black lung claims" Tracie Mauriello, Feb. 25, 2014

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