Warner, Kaine, Manchin introduce reforms to black lung benefits program

congressToday U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) proposed sweeping reforms to the federal program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease.

Federal law requires that coal companies compensate miners with disabilities who contract black lung, which is caused by inhaling coal dust over an extended period of time, but coal companies routinely deploy an array of unfair tactics to avoid paying miners the benefits they deserve.

To help level the playing field for miners battling this debilitating, potentially fatal disease, the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2015 was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Warner, Kaine and Manchin along with Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Companion legislation was also introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Matt Cartwright (D-PA-17), and Frederica Wilson (D-FL-17).

“I’ve always been proud to stand up for coal workers and their families,” said Sen. Warner. “Coal miners put themselves on the line underground to power our economy. For the miners who are suffering from black lung as a result, we need to uphold our end of the bargain. These are commonsense steps we can take to make it a little easier for miners and their families to access appropriate medical care and compensation.”

“Black lung is a debilitating disease that impacts thousands of miners in Virginia and across the nation,” Sen. Kaine said. “I’m proud to re-introduce this bill to strengthen the benefits system for miners and increase their access to medical evidence so they can receive a fair shake in the legal process.”

“Over the years, our coal miners have suffered from the devastating effects of black lung disease and have not received the attention or care they have earned and that’s unacceptable,” Sen. Manchin said. “Since the 1930’s when President Franklin Roosevelt began investigating medical care in the coalfields, the federal government has been committed to the health and wellbeing of miners. President Roosevelt recognized that our miners mined the coal that produced the steel that built our nation and helped us win World War II. We have upheld that commitment ever since and must continue to do so, which is why I am proud to sponsor this legislation with my colleagues. The very least we can do is make sure that all miners have access to quality medical care and legal counseling while ensuring that unfair practices do not delay or deny a miner their benefits. I have and I will continue to fight for our brave miners to make sure they receive the necessary assistance and care they deserve.”

“Coal miners face a number of challenges pursuing federal black lung claims, including finding legal representation and developing sound medical evidence to support their claims,” said Rep. Bobby Scott. “The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2015 ensures that miners have equal access to medical evidence and better access to legal resources.  It also provides a remedy for those whose claims were denied due to recent discoveries of discredited medical evidence.  This legislation will help miners and their families get the benefits they deserve.”

In July, Sens. Warner, Kaine and Manchin joined their colleagues to introduce the Miners Protection Act, which would  ensure that the federal government and coal operators honor their obligation of lifetime pensions and health benefits to retired miners and their families who are facing uncertainty as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies.



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