Judges needed: Black lung cases are overwhelming the system

There are few jobs in America that are as hazardous to one's health as working in the coal mines. Toiling in dirty, confined conditions underground for decades will expose even the most conscientious worker to dangerous levels of coal dust.

The biggest hazard facing miners is black lung disease, a debilitating respiratory ailment that afflicts a large percentage of workers in that industry. What begins as a nagging cough can eventually develop into something fatal if it isn't treated.

Meanwhile, the number of black lung claims filed by coal miners has gotten so unwieldy in recent years that Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu is seeking the largest funding increase in a decade — 11.5 percent or $2.72 million — for the Office of Administrative Law Judges so that it can more efficiently process the expected mountain of claims.

Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., hear the majority of black lung claims, so those offices would receive the bulk of funding intended for staff increases and other needed resources.

In a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, Mr. Lu said Pittsburgh needs at least three new administrative law judges to review cases and handle appeals.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., agreed that the Pittsburgh office needed beefing up, but questioned whether the increase the secretary requested will be enough. The national backlog currently stands at 2,866. Another 7,400 cases are expected to be filed by the end of the year.

The scandal of miners waiting an average of 429 days for a case to be assigned and four months beyond that for a hearing is outrageous.

—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 28


Don't delay vaccinating children for measles

Tarrant County, Texas, residents got a sobering reminder of how important it is to vaccinate children when public health officials last week confirmed the first case of measles in the county since 2013.

A resident who had recently traveled to Wichita, Kan., where 11 measles cases have been verified, was apparently exposed to the highly contagious disease while attending a softball tournament early this month.

Unfortunately, more than 30 other Texans who attended the event may have been exposed as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, measles is the most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illnesses. It is highly communicable, meaning it can spread easily through coughing and sneezing, even breathing in close contact with an infected person.

It also can take up to three weeks to incubate, sometimes making it difficult to determine when or where a person contracted the illness.

But the virus is almost entirely preventable by way of an easily obtained vaccine, usually administered just after a child's first birthday.

Since 1963, the measles vaccine has been in wide use, leading to a greater than 99 percent reduction in confirmed cases in the U.S.

Still, many Americans wrongly assume that such illnesses are vestiges of less enlightened times and all but nonexistent. As a result, many fail to get their kids the vaccines that can ensure that these diseases do indeed remain things of the past.

—Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 25