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Federal rule changes to help black lung victims

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CHARLESTON, WV (AP) — Changes to federal black lung rules are expected to make it easier for coal miners and their families to obtain benefits.

A final rule announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Program implements two amendments to the 2010 Black Lung Benefits Act.

The changes, called the Byrd Amendments, reinstate two provisions that were eliminated in 1981. They were sponsored by the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-.W.Va.

After 1982, survivors of a coal miner totally disabled due to pneumoconiosis — commonly referred to as black lung disease — to prove the disease caused the miner's death. One amendment makes that an automatic assumption for those who worked in coal mines for at least 15 years and suffered a totally disabling respiratory impairment.

The other amendment automatically transfers black lung benefits from the late recipient to eligible survivors.

The rule also eliminates several unnecessary or obsolete provisions.

Claims filed on or after March 23, 2010, and claims dating to Jan. 1, 2005, are affected by the rule.

"Many miners disabled by black lung disease and their survivors will receive critical benefits as a result of the Byrd Amendments," Gary A. Steinberg, acting director of OWCP, said in a news release. "The final rules implementing these vital provisions assist the coal-mining community by clarifying how the amendments operate."

Black lung is caused by inhaling coal dust. The disease was once thought defeated but has been reappearing among younger miners in recent years. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's report on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia, for example, found that at least 17 of the 29 miners killed had black lung.

In fiscal 2012, 549,619 black lung claims were filed nationwide and payouts topped $210 million, according to the Labor Department's website.

 

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