Reading Room

Tuesday, August 30, 2005  
"After 5 years, justice in worker's death"

By: Betsy Mason
Published In: San Jose Mercury News, Knight Ridder

More than five years after her husband Carl died and four years after her first attempt to file for compensation for his death, Joyce Brooks has finally gotten justice from the Department of Labor in the form of a $275,000 check.

Before he died, Carl asked Joyce to pursue restitution from the Department of Energy for his illness, which he believed was caused by 32 years at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, including work as a beryllium machinist.

It has been a long, hard road for Brooks. Her claim was denied three times. But she persisted, and now she has what she was looking for: an admission of guilt.

Experts at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who deal with any claim that is not clear cut, decided it was ``more likely than not'' that Carl, 70, died of chronic beryllium disease from exposure at the lab.

``For me, I found out what caused his death, and that was a big part of it,'' Brooks said. ``It wasn't a matter of the money.''

Carl was initially diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, but he believed the beryllium was to blame.

He died six months later.

Motivated by her promise to her husband, Brooks refused to give up until she proved her husband's hunch true.

Each time her claim was denied, Brooks went back to work. She tracked down more experts on beryllium disease, uncovered more lab reports, mined her husband's personal files for travel documents and medical charts, gathered every scrap of evidence she could get her hands on, and filed again. The resulting six-inch stack of evidence, including 40-year-old X-rays, finally tipped the scales in her favor.

``I don't want to be big about it, but I took the Labor Department to task,'' Brooks said.

Brooks also had the support of Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, who co-sponsored the compensation act.

But there is still a note of sadness in Brooks' voice as she talks about her victory.

``It's bittersweet. I'm not jumping for joy, because I lost someone and no amount of money can change that."

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