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U.S. Sen. Casey wants more funds to help in reducing black lung backlog

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 3:30 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Sen. Bob Casey, right, looks over David Wilson, a retired coal miner of 33 years, as he is introduced at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Casey wants additional funds to get the claims backlog of miners suffering from black lung expedited.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
David Wilson, a retired coal miner of 33 years, discusses his health problems associated with black lung at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.

Sen. Bob Casey and a group of fellow Democrats want to quadruple the increase the White House requested for the Department of Labor budget to fight a backlog of coal miners' black lung benefits cases.

An extra $10 million, on top of the $2.9 million increase sought by President Obama, would allow the department to hire 20 more hearing officers nationwide, including several for the overwhelmed Pittsburgh office, Casey said on Wednesday.

“They deserve a fair measure of justice,” he said about thousands of miners awaiting rulings from the department and its administrative law judges on claims for black lung benefits. The incurable disease has killed more than 76,000 miners since 1968.

Casey and seven fellow senators and congressmen — including Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — wrote to the Office of Management and Budget on July 29 explaining why the Labor Department needs $10 million more than proposed.

The letter reiterates points Casey outlined during a Senate committee hearing last month. A shortage of administrative law judges — Pittsburgh has only two — caused a backlog of claims. Miners wait more than a year to get their benefit claims assigned to a judge, and a combined 42 months for a decision.

Miners are struggling to find lawyers to represent them when coal companies appeal the claims because of the time it takes, delaying any potential payment, said Lynda Glagola, chair of the National Coalition of Black Lung and Respiratory Disease Clinics.

Glagola, an advocate at the Lungs at Work clinic in McMurray, appeared with Casey and a retired miner to discuss his efforts in the courtyard at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown.

“Why is the government letting the companies get away with this?” asked David Wilson, 66, of Greensboro in Greene County, who got a lung transplant in 2012 after working 33 years underground.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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