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Congress Seeks to Streamline Benefits Process for Injured Miners

North Carolina coal miners afflicted with black lung disease may soon find it easier to obtain benefits for their injuries.

Black lung disease, also known as coal worker's pneumoconiosis, is an occupational disease that results from extended exposure to coal, graphite or carbon dust. It can cause significant airway obstruction and may ultimately lead to respiratory failure.

In 1981, the federal government eliminated two key provisions of the Black Lung Benefits Act. Now, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - known by critics as "Obamacare" - aims to bring those benefits back.

The first provision makes it easier for the survivors of black lung victims to recover benefits. After 1982, survivors had to prove that the condition caused the miners' wrongful death. Now, there will be an automatic presumption for any individual who worked in a coal mine for at least 15 years and experienced a totally disabling respiratory impairment related to black lung disease.

The second provision would automatically transfer black lung benefits to eligible survivors upon a recipient's death.

In addition, earlier this year, federal lawmakers introduced a bill that would reduce the paperwork necessary to apply for black lung benefits. Currently, the application is more than 50 pages long. The bill calls on the Department of Labor to review the process and eliminate redundancies.

Black Lung Benefits Claims

It was once thought that new mining safety rules had all but eliminated black lung disease. However, the disease has seen a resurgence in recent years. After the Upper Big Branch disaster, it was discovered that 17 of the 29 workers killed were afflicted with the disease.

Since 1973, more than 662,000 miners have filed black lung claims. Together, they have received more than $227.4 million in benefits.

If you or a loved one suffers from black lung disease and have legal questions about benefits, please contact an experienced attorney today to learn more.

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