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Sick Former Hanford Worker Speaks Out about his Deadly Disease & Federal Compensation for Sick Workers

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NBC Right Now got an exclusive interview with a former Hanford worker who's battling a deadly disease. NBC Right Now got an exclusive interview with a former Hanford worker who's battling a deadly disease.
PASCO, WA-  NBC Right Now got an exclusive interview with a former Hanford worker who's battling a deadly disease. He now gets money from the federal government because of his illness.

Lawrence Rouse spent nearly 20 years working at Hanford's most hazardous sites. He says he was exposed to nuclear waste radiation and toxic chemicals several times.

Now he sadly lives his life with a deadly disease. He receives some compensation from the federal Department of Labor, but he say's it's just not enough for how his illness has ruined his life.  

"The disease that I have, toxic encephalopathy, I think that's how it's pronounced, from the time you're diagnosed you normally, it depends on every person, you normally have ten to twelve years and you're dead. You just end up, it eats your brain away," said Rouse.

Lawrence Rouse isn't the man he once was.

Near the end of his almost twenty years working at Hanford's Plutonium Finishing Plant and nuclear waste tank farms, he began to develop severe symptoms. Stuttering, memory loss, losing his teeth and he became emotionally unstable including violent outbursts.

Rouse's deteriorating health and mental state is heartbreaking for him and the people he loves most. His son wrote a message about his changing father.

"Wrote this letter, this little poem and said that his dad is gone. He's not the same dad that he had growing up. It's hard for me to see that because that's not me," Rouse said.

Lawrence's wife, Melinda Rouse, says watching him get sick is very emotional.

"I think the hardest part for me is knowing what he was and seeing what we've lost. Hard on the kids, hard on me," Melinda said.

Lawrence says he was exposed to nuclear radiation around ten times and constantly exposed to chemical vapors. He says more often than not, the workers did not wear sufficient protective gear.

"Anytime you went into a farm to do any kind of work you'd smell something. Sometimes it would be a little one. Sometimes it would almost bring you to your knees...SY farm, it would rain the chemical on you from the stack. That's why we wore the baseball caps."

A neuropsychologist evaluated Lawrence and determined he's unfit to work.

He says the Washington Department of Labor and DOE denied giving him money. But the federal Department of Labor did grant him compensation under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.

EEOICPA gives compensation to workers that are ill from exposure to radiation and toxic substances. Since the program began in 2001, they've paid more than $1 billion in compensation and medical bills to workers they've determined are sick from exposure at Hanford.

Over 15,000 workers have filed claims and less them half of them and their families have been granted compensation.

Lawrence received $200,000 and gets $15,000 a year for lost wages.

"The EEOICPA, they're good and they are helping the people who are hurt out there, but it's not enough if you can't work for the rest of your life," Lawrence said.

His wife Melinda says they need the money more than they can afford to fight the system.

"This is a little pittance. You accept it. Basically, you're saying I need that money more than I need to fight the company," Melinda said.

The EEOICPA acknowledges the likely cause of his illness, but Lawrence and his family want the DOE to acknowledge what's happened to him as a result of his years at Hanford.
"They've treated me very fairly because they already said yeah it happened and this is what's going on and these are the chemicals that you were exposed to," said Lawrence.
"But you think differently of DOE?" asked Jane Sander, NBC Right Now reporter.

"Oh DOE, DOE denies everything. DOE has always denied everything. And that's not going to change," Lawrence said.

Since the EEOICPA became law in 2001, the program has paid sick workers from energy work sites nationwide, $10 billion.

Meanwhile, more Hanford workers continue to file claims for their illnesses that they say they developed from working at the Hanford site.
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