Due in part to recent national press coverage of black lung disease in this country, a group of senators and representatives have introduced parallel bills to amend the Black Lung Benefits Act in the Senate and House. As we wrote when the legislation was introduced,
The Black Lung Improvement Act of 2014 is meant to fix a wide variety of problems in the federal black lung benefits system. Many of these problems were publicized through the Pulitzer Prize winning reporting Breathless and Burdened (by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News) or were discussed at the Senate hearing from July 22, 2014 (which was discussed in previous posts here and here.)
Problems with the black lung benefits system are hardly recent. Looking back in the historical record, it is easy to see that many inefficiencies have plagued the benefits system since its inception. For example, a comic published by the West Virginia Black Lung Association in 1971 (and provided to us by its author, current ACLC board president Mimi Pickering) details many frustrations that black lung victims faced in the early 1970s. We have published the document below.
By telling the story of “Black Lung Bill,” a black lung victim who goes to battle with the Social Security Administration to receive his benefits, the comic provides an informative (and humorous) look at the early days of the black lung benefits system. Obviously, many things have changed in the intervening years – the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs took over claim-processing duties from the Social Security Administration in 1973; the 15 year presumption was removed in 1982, only to be restored in 2010 by the Affordable Care Act. But some problems remain.
For example, it is still difficult to prove the condition of “total disability” that the act requires in order to receive benefits. There is still the very real fact that the coal industry’s doctors and lawyers are gaming the system to prove that you do not have black lung disease. And to add to these frustrations, the risk of catching the most severe form of black lung is actually worse for miners today than it was in 1969, two years before this comic book was written.
These facts are perhaps what make the story of “Black Lung Bill” most fascinating, and they show that, unfortunately, “Bill” is still battling today for fair treatment for black lung disease and compensation benefits.