Advocates for U.S. atomic workers sickened by radiation exposure say they are stunned that a federal claims training manual uses fictional characters' names, including an apparent reference to the disfigured villain of the Nightmare on Elm Street horror movies.
The federal program compensates Hanford and other workers and has paid Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory workers and their survivors about $815 million for radiation and chemical exposures.
Deborah Jerison of Yellow Springs, Ohio, said she recently received the Labor Department manual in response to a Freedom of Information request made months earlier. Her late father worked at a now-defunct nuclear weapons plant in Miamisburg, Ohio. She heads a group that helps former atomic workers and their families pursue federal occupational illness compensation claims.
The manual she says she received uses case names derived from TV and movies, such as claimant "Freddie Krueger," spelled slightly different than the Freddy in the Nightmare series. The Krueger in the manual is reported as dying Oct. 31 -- Halloween. The example suffered from "depression, dementia and skin cancer."
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Jerison, whose physicist father James Goode died in 1960, said she didn't like seeing someone in a situation similar to his being depicted that way.
"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.
The Labor Department issued a statement this week saying a former contractor prepared the manual several years ago for internal use only, and the references in question have been removed after review.
"We agree that the use of fictional characters with negative attributes could be perceived as insensitive," Gary Steinberg, acting director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, said in the statement. "An oversight of this nature does not reflect the values and principles by which we operate."
Another claimant is called Jack Bauer, the hero of TV's 24 drama. A pathologist is called Hannibal Lechter, an apparent reference to the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter of books and movies. TV doctors treating patients in the case studies include Dr. Amanda Bentley, a character on the series and Dr. Marcus Welby, who was a genial family practitioner on an ABC drama.
David Manuta of Waverly, Ohio, wrote to the Labor Department as a member of the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups, 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.
Jerison's father worked at The Mound plant that made triggers and detonators for nuclear weapons. She 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 Claimant Assistance Project.
She had requested the claims training manual to gain information about the process from the government side. The compensation program was established in 2001, but it's unclear when the manual was published; its 24 chapters take trainees from the history of the nuclear energy to step-by-step instruction in conducting a claims hearing.
The manual's use of fictional names was first reported by the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News.