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Proposed change could make Black Lung benefits harder for miners

By: Michelle Heron Email
By: Michelle Heron Email

PIKE COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) His story is similar to hundreds across the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky.

Jonah Thacker worked in the coal industry for 17 years, following the footsteps of his father and brothers.

“I’ve shot coal and run scoops.. I’ve done just about everything in the coal mines,” Thacker said.

But a physical for a job at a new coal company changed his life forever.

“They turned me down because they said I had a spot on my lungs and after that they wouldn’t fire me in the coal mines because I had a spot on my lungs,” Thacker added.

Since then, Thacker has been to countless doctors, been prescribed multiple medications and even had part of a lung removed.

Thacker says doctors told him the spot on his lung is from working in the coal mines and breathing in coal dust.

He filed for federal black lung benefits, but was denied over and over for 10 years. He was finally awarded his benefits in January.

“It just bothers you when you have to do all that, and you have to run back to all these doctors and start right back over again,” Thacker added.

A proposed change by the U.S. Labor Department could make that process even harder.

Seven congressmen including West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller said in a letter to Secretary Thomas Perez, the rule “would make it all-but-impossible for miners to receive copies of medical reports that were prepared by coal operators’ doctors.”

“If you worked in the mines and you have black lung, they need to be awarded,” Thacker said.

Thacker’s black lung card pays for all of his medication, which adds up to more than $600 a month.

The Labor Department declined to comment on the letter. To see a full copy of the letter, click on the attached link.

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