"Feinberg says no claims filed on cleanup illnesses" ran an erroneous Associated Press headline last week, stirring up more mistrust of the BP claims process among Gulf Coast residents. It is simply not true that sick cleanup workers have not filed medical claims with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), administered by Kenneth Feinberg. Rather, Feinberg and the GCCF appear to be categorically rejecting those claims, saying there is not enough scientific proof that links the illnesses to the BP disaster.
Feinberg told Bridge The Gulf in a recent interview that the GCCF
has received "a couple hundred" health claims related to BP cleanup, but
has denied all of them for lack of documentation.
What proof do they need?
says that the GCCF, which was set up by BP to compensate those impacted
by its disaster in the Gulf, would theoretically grant health claims
related to the cleanup effort. But he said he has "reservations about
whether those claimants can offer proof" that the BP disaster caused
"What proof do they need?" asks Sean Kelley, a cleanup worker whose health claim was denied by Feinberg for insufficient documentation. Kelley had direct exposure to the oil. He removed oil from containment booms and laid boom for nearly two months along the Alabama and Mississippi coast. Kelley believes that exposure to BP's crude oil caused a number of his current health problems, including nausea, headaches, rashes, blurred vision, infections, cardiac issues, and neurological problems like uncontrollable shaking in his limbs, memory loss, and brain fogs that last for hours. He had internal bleeding as well.
Kelley's denied claim included medical bills from multiple doctor visits, and the results of a test showing his blood contains alarming levels of toxins that are found in BP's crude oil.
If it is going to reject claims like his, Kelley says, "[the GCCF] has to come out and say what link and documentation they need."
The GCCF has yet to provide clear guidelines for a cleanup claim it would grant. Even a doctor's note linking an individual's cleanup work to their health symptoms might not be enough, says Feinberg, because the "medical community" needs to agree on the linkage.
The burden of documentation
Advocates on the Gulf Coast wonder how many will go untreated -- or even die -- waiting for the "medical community" to connect their illnesses with the BP disaster.
"No doctors will help anybody," says Kindra Arnesen of Buras,
La. Arnesen, her husband (who worked on the cleanup), and their
two children have had infections, respiratory illnesses, headaches, and
other ailments since the oil and dispersant disaster began.
Cleanup workers and coastal residents have been diagnosed with acid reflux, stress, and the flu, but seldom chemical poisoning. Some patients say that when they brought up exposure to BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants, their doctors have laughed, refused to do further testing, or privately admitted they can't take on BP.
There are other obstacles to the GCCF process that keep people away from filing claims, medical or otherwise. John Bean, a former clean-up worker, resisted filing a medical claim because he didn't want to sign away his right to sue BP. Giving up that right is a requirement for those who accept a final settlement, which covers all future damages.
Claimants can accept an interim payment without abdicating the right to sue, but that option only reimburses past expenses. This means that people have to pay for expensive medical bills out of pocket, and then hope that the GCCF reimburses them. So far it has not.
This creates a Catch-22 for many sick residents and clean-up workers,
Sean Kelley explains. They cannot provide documentation for their
claims without tests and doctors visits, but they cannot afford the
tests and doctors visits without the GCCF settlement.
Despite these obstacles, John Bean decided to finally file his claim last Friday. Without health insurance, he is facing headaches, diarrhea, vision problems, and a rash that is "driving me insane." He decided to file because he needs the money for his medical care.
But rather than helping him file a claim, Bean says a GCCF representative told him he had to file for workman's compensation with the cleanup subcontractor he worked for.
Feinberg: BP's agent
"What's the point?" says Kindra Arnesen when asked if she's filed a medical claim with Feinberg. "They're not paying out income claims. So surely they're not going to pay our medical claims," she says. "[Feinberg's] not here for the people of the Gulf. He's here for BP."
Arnesen's point is backed up by the Louisiana District Court, which ruled in February
that Feinberg was acting on behalf of BP and had to cease claiming to
be neutral. Prior to the order, Feinberg frequently told claimants at town hall meetings, "I don't work for BP," and projected the image that
he wanted what's best for Gulf Coast residents.
That was just one in a series of missteps that have raised serious concerns about the fairness and transparency of Feinberg's claims process.
Arnesen says that given Feinberg's clear bias, suing is the only chance she has to get BP to redress her family's illness.
Watch Video: Cleanup worker Clayton Matherne, who skimmed oil in the disaster response operation, confronts Kenneth Feinberg about how GCCF is handling medical claims.