Black lung patients fight for state and federal black lung benefits

Local - 7/4/2013 7:06 PM by Rebecca Turco
COAL CITY - Many miners feel they are just another number when it comes to filing black lung claims.

Black lung patient Rickie Coalson, 56, of Coal City has state benefits, but is having trouble receiving federal benefits. "I think they could make it easier for the miners on the federal," said Coalson. "But the companies have so many lawyers."

Coal corporations spend millions of dollars in legal fees each year to prevent black lung patients from proving their disability, according to Coalson. "I've been denied, but I'm not giving up. You can refile again and I plan on refiling again," he said.

Gary Hairston, 59, of Beckley said he initially initially received both state and federal benefits after his black lung diagnosis, but his West Virginia benefits were taken away shortly after.

It was about a ten-year legal struggle for Joe Massie, president of the National and Fayette County Black Lung Associations, to receive his federal black lung benefits. He said nothing is every easy for coal miners. "The coal miners never had anything unless they didn't fight for it, so that's the way I look at it," Massie explained.

The filing process for federal claims can be overwhelming for many, so members of local black lung associations like in Fayette County help them with the paperwork.

"Filing is not easy," said Certified Medical Assistant Susie Criss. Criss is the Black Lung Program director at the New River Breathing Center in Scarbro and she attends the monthly meetings of the Fayette County Black Lung Association. "The general public looking at this form would find it very daunting."

The approval rate for federal black lung claims has increased from 8.99 percent to 13.75 percent from 2002 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Coalson said he will keep refiling for his benefits until he is in that percentage. "I plan as long as I have breath to keep fighting to try to get it."

Locals who need help filing black lung benefits claims can attend the Fayette County Black Lung Association's monthly meetings at the New River Health Annex in Scarbro. For more information, call Joe Massie at 304-469-3235.


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