NORTON, Va. - For years, coal miners and attorneys representing them in black lung cases have maintained the deck is stacked against them in their fight to win benefits from coal companies. Now a major investigation involving two agencies, one doctor and thousands of x-rays may bolster that claim.
We spoke to a black lung victim and the man fighting to help him prove his case on Friday.
No matter how you extract coal, store coal or transport it, it creates dust. For years coal companies have battled to keep the dust at a minimum -- that coal dust may cause explosions.
For those who work around it, there is also the danger of black lung disease, an incurable disease where the lungs fill with dust, making breathing difficult.
Bruce Goode has worked in the coal industry for 20 years, now he's seeking benefits for the chronic disease. "You have to go through the process of getting examinations and proving that you got black lung. Then, of course, all the coal companies will fight against you to try to prove that you don't have black lung."
That involves lawyers and doctors. A recent investigation by ABC News and the advocacy group Center for Public Integrity looked at the number of patients filing black lung claims and how many of them are being denied benefits. That investigation examined a doctor at Johns Hopkins Medical Center's black lung program who has read thousands of chest x-rays in the past two decades.
Attorney Joe Wolfe represents many people like Bruce Goode. He tells us that not one single case reviewed by the doctor ended with a diagnosis of the most advanced level of black lung, which might result in compensation to a patient.
Wolfe says miners with black lung are at an unfair disadvantage. "It was a tremendous advantage that the coal companies and insurance companies, those defending these black lung claims had over a coal miner," he said.
For workers like Bruce Goode, all they seek is compensation for a disease contracted while working around coal. "They sacrifice so much, and they're just trying to make a living for their families," he said. "Then when their body breaks down, they have a hard time being compensated for what effort they've done."
We contacted Johns Hopkins for comment, and were told they would send us a statement. So far, we have not received that.
After the ABC investigation aired, the medical center did suspend its black lung program pending results of an internal investigation.
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