Senators introduce bill to protect coal miners

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- “This is a disease that we know the cure for. We know how it happens. We know how to prevent it, yet it keeps happening," Phil Smith with the United Mine Workers of America.

Smith can’t begin to count the visits he’s made to Capitol Hill fighting for coal miners across the country as the Director of Communications and Governmental Affairs with the United Mine Workers of America. He said thousands of them are suffering from black lung disease caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. Smith said miners aren’t getting the help they need.

“Unfortunately we’re seeing a rise in the number of people getting it. Younger miners are getting it. Then we’ve ever seen before," he added.

The Center for Public Integrity found some hospitals took kickbacks from coal companies and intentionally provided miners incorrect readings of miners’ x-rays.

"They would say they didn’t have black lung when later on an autopsy would prove that they did," Smith said.

The phony x-rays prevented hundreds of sick miners from collecting their health benefits. Now, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are stepping in to make sure they’re properly compensated.

“Miners are still being treated as if they’re not as valuable as the equipment or machinery of the mine," West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said.

Manchin is helping introduce the “Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act." The bill would allow miners and surviving family members to reopen cases, if they were not diagnosed properly. It would reform the federal program that provides benefits to the miners suffering from the disease so they can get the help Manchin said they deserve.

"The most valuable part of mining is the miner," he added.

So far, the bill doesn’t have any Republican support. It’s still making its way through committee, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told us he’s watching the progress.

He said in a statement shared with Gray TV, "throughout my career, I voted on a number of occasions to support and maintain funding for black lung benefits.”

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