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Federal benefits for West Virginia black lung victims

West Virginia miners may not be aware of some benefits available in the event of a job-related illness. Many coal miners think workers' compensation insurance is sufficient to cover medical bills and lost earnings but in many cases, coverage doesn't address a victim's complete needs. A federal program supplements medical coverage for victims of coal miner pneumoconiosis, better known as black lung disease.

Pneumoconiosis is an umbrella term used to describe mineral dust damage to workers' lungs. Asbestosis, silicosis and black lung are all forms of pneumoconiosis. The Federal Black Lung Program deals exclusively with miners who contract black lung due to the inhalation of coal dust.

Unlike West Virginia workers' compensation, the Federal Black Lung Program concentrates solely on medical expenses for victims of coal miner pneumoconiosis. The U.S. Department of Labor coverage can include doctors' visits, in- and outpatient hospital care and treatments including prescription drugs. The program also pays or reimburses costs for approved rehabilitation programs, travel costs and some at-home care and equipment.

The federal program is not meant to supplant workers' compensation. You can receive benefits from workers' comp and the black lung program simultaneously, but federal benefits are paid only for medical services that aren't covered by state programs. The Federal Black Lung Program accepts claims that have been denied by workers' compensation and allows victims to choose their own medical providers, without the hassle of deductibles or co-payments.

Several items are not included in the federal government's program. Treatments for conditions other than black lung pay for home health aides, non-prescription medication and residential costs of skilled care facilities or nursing homes are excluded. Other exclusions are detailed at the Labor Department's website, where contact numbers are available if you have further questions.

Attorneys representing victims of coal mining injuries and illnesses know about sources of compensation. Legal advice can help victims and affected families receive all benefits possible.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, "Black Lung Medical Benefits: Questions and Answers about the Federal Black Lung Program" Sep. 30, 2014

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