PENNINGTON GAP, Va. - There is no cure for black lung. There is, however, treatment to extend and improve the quality of life of those diagnosed.
Sometimes that treatment is paid for through the Federal Black Lung Medical Card -- but getting those benefits is not simple.
At Stone Mountain Health Services a hallway is full of folders. Each folder represents one miner diagnosed with black lung and a pending case to receive help paying for the bills associated with the disease.
Doctor Bickley Craven is the Director of Stone Mountain Health Services. "They're opening up more cases every week." says Craven.
And the success rate of winning those cases is much higher than the national rate of 13%. Director of the black lung program, Ron Carson, says he usually wins about 40% of the cases. So what "winning" mean? Carson explains, "It's getting that black lung medical card and that card covers everything in that miner's chest, the heart and lungs."
It's not an easy task. Carson says he has to prove three things in court to get those benefits for a patient: The patient must have worked in and around coal being extracted from the earth. They must present x-rays showing opacities or where rock and dust have collected in the lungs. And, they must be totally and permanently disabled.
Eldon Newport drives two hours to Stone Mountain Health Services to receive treatment for his black lung disease. Carson won Newport's case to receive benefits but it wasn't easy. Newport did not meet the first requirement. He was a driver. "The truck didn't have no air conditioner. You had to roll the windows down and all of that dust came in the window." described Newport.
It takes 120 days from the time an application is filled out to get a preliminary decision, which can be costly. Carson says a week in the hospital for these patients can run up a bill of $100,000.
Legal services are free to miners that may qualify for black lung benefits. To learn more about the program at Stone Mountain Health Services you can call 276-383-4428.