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The Department of Labor covered the $63,000 pacemaker procedure at Research Medical Center, Thomas recalls, but declined any further compensation because Thomas had admitted that she was a smoker in the past. (She quit in the 1970s.)
Last month, Thomas was surprised to receive a letter from the Department of Labor, informing her that she could be re-evaluated if she contacted a caseworker from the EEOICP in Paducah, Kentucky, where claims for this region are processed.
Thomas' son, David Hunt, called the number for the caseworker and tried to track down records from his mother's radiation exposure. "They gave me the runaround," says Hunt, who is 62 and sick himself with prostate cancer and a breathing disorder. "They said to call this number, call that number, and I ended up back where I started from."
Thomas and Hunt are unsure of the status of Thomas' case. A Department of Labor representative at the Paducah office declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.
"They didn't give me a penny," Thomas says.
She lives on Social Security and her Honeywell pension. Her medications are expensive. "It's a rough time right now," she says.
Hunt says of Honeywell, "I was hurt, how they did my mother. I think it's wrong of them to wait this long time, like they're hoping she'll die off, hoping she'll go away, and the story would go away. That's what it's about."
Linda Coleman is a very young-looking 57, with a gentle, frequent laugh. This year, she was diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease.
She worked at Honeywell for just four months.
Coleman was 16 years old and the youngest person working at the Kansas City Plant in 1968. It was a summer job for her, from June to August. Coleman was one month pregnant when she started the job, doing clerical work for the engineers' secretaries. "We were like the gofers," Coleman says. "Every day, we went through the plant, to the supply room, to get whatever supplies were needed. Or if there was a message to give to someone, something like that, then we did it. And usually, it was me." She laughs. "But I didn't mind. I didn't like sitting around at a desk. Actually, that's when I decided I didn't want to be a secretary."
Coleman was a single mother when, a few years later, she heard that the Honeywell plant was hiring again. Her security clearance had not yet expired, so she reapplied. She was called back in for a physical, which, she remembered from her previous employment, was usually good news.
"The doctor says to me, right before I leave, 'You need to do exercises that make you breathe deeply.' I said, 'Huh? What do you mean?' He wouldn't explain it." Coleman says. She regularly ran for exercise, so the doctor's advice seemed odd.
The plant never got back to her about the job.
In 2000, Coleman says, her whole body broke out in hives that wouldn't go away. She saw an allergist, who couldn't determine what was causing the reaction. He prescribed antihistamines for the hives, which she took daily; whenever she stopped, the hives came back.
The same year, Coleman received a letter. It was addressed to her maiden name and arrived in her mailbox at her current workplace, in the downtown federal building. The letter urged former Honeywell workers to be part of a health screening at the Department of Labor's expense. She decided to go for testing.
"I never thought I would have anything," Coleman says, "but in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, Anything that can be caught, I would catch."