Buzzfeed‘s Chris Hamby has a heartbreaking and infuriating story about Steve Day, a miner in West Virginia whose autopsy revealed severe, debilitating black lung disease, which should have allowed him to receive federal black lung benefits. However, because Dr. Paul Wheeler’s unit of doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions testified against Steve, his benefits were denied.
The fact that Steve was denied benefits, despite that he worked underground for almost 35 years, and “a majority of his lungs had been replaced by scar tissue from coal dust,” reveals what miners face when filing black lung benefits claims. Last year Hamby investigated the federal black lung benefits system for the Center for Public Integrity, and found that the coal industry pours millions of dollars into defeating individual claims by hiring a cadre of experts, lawyers and doctors, including Dr. Paul Wheeler. Dr. Wheeler’s program has since been suspended by Johns Hopkins, pending an internal investigation.
However, the system is still overwhelmingly daunting for many claimants. For example, as Hamby writes:
In a system with few attorneys willing to represent miners — and even fewer who know enough to challenge Wheeler’s views — his assertions have carried great weight and contributed to many miners being denied black lung benefits.
In other words, Steve Day died not only because of the callousness of Dr. Wheeler and the coal industry, but also because there simply is not a profit incentive for lawyers to help miners obtain black lung benefits. This is why ACLC exists – to stand up for miners like Steve where others will not.