Recent events in Tamaulipas, Mexico, specifically in and around the city of Reynosa, pose a special risk to U.S. Border Patrol agents working in the region.
The Reynosa faction of the Mexican Gulf Cartel recently lost its leader and the group is engaging in open warfare with Mexican authorities and possibly with rival factions or other transnational criminal groups. Open source reports indicate gunbattles and use of grenades and other explosives in the fighting.
June 9, 2017
Yesterday, the Union advised employees of eight confirmed cases of cancer among agents who have been assigned to perform Backscatter/VACIS duties in the El Paso Sector. After seeing NBPC’s advisory, a former Border Patrol employee also assigned to perform Backscatter duties advised us that he is afflicted with another type of cancer, Myxoid Liposarcoma. None of the aforementioned employees were genetically predisposed to their respective diagnoses. The eight confirmed cases we are aware of currently only consist of male employees, four of which reside in El Paso County and 4 of which reside in Dona Ana County. In 2014, El Paso County, Texas reported a thyroid cancer incidence rate for males at 7.6 persons diagnosed with the disease for every 100,000 people. In 2014, Dona Ana County, New Mexico reported a thyroid cancer incidence rate for males at 6.0 persons diagnosed with the disease for every 100,000 people.
NBPC urges Border Patrol agents who have been assigned to perform those duties to seek guidance from their personal physician. Employees should provide the physician with this advisory, a summary of his or her job duties, and any non-sensitive information on the VACIS/Backscatter, specifically the radioactive properties they bear. Employees should submit a completed CA-2 if cancer or any other medical condition is found and linked to their employment along with a copy of the medical report or diagnosis. For more information, refer to Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation, Publication CA-810, Chapter 2-3. Union representatives can assist employees with their Workers’ Compensation claims. If your physician requests further details regarding the equipment used, you can refer to ZBV by AS&E on this link.
We are reviewing data that has been provided by the agency and are requesting more information as additional employees step forward. Once we have received, reviewed, and analyzed all of the information requested, we will provide members with another update.
Agents should share any concerns about operating the Backscatter/VACIS with management, and if ordered to use the equipment, inform them of the concerns involving their health and well-being prior to being ordered to operate the Backscatter/VACIS. If you are still ordered to operate them, please contact a Union Representative immediately. OSHA states that under certain circumstances workers have the right to refuse dangerous work. For employees to be protected under this doctrine certain criteria must be met. For more information visit the DOL guidelines pertaining to the right to refuse.
Injured employees throughout the nation have experienced denials of their workers' compensation claims, denial of essential medical treatments, and lost wages due to denied compensation claims. In many instances, these injured workers were told by their medical providers that the doctor's office would "take care of everything" for them, only to find themselves with large unpaid medical bills and no assistance following the denial of their claim. There are numerous wellness centers and treatment facilities that cater specifically and only to injured federal employees, marketing themselves as a "one-stop-shop" for dealing with OWCP.
However, federal workers' compensation fraud is unfortunately a regular occurrence across the country. Examples can be readily found online. Some providers have taken advantage of injured employees by:
Following a traumatic injury, one of the first concerns for an injured employee and their family is compensation. The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) has a provision known as Continuation of Pay (COP) which requires that the employing agency must continue the injured employee's regular pay during any period of work-related disability, up to a maximum of 45 calendar days. The agency, not OWCP, pays COP. Unlike wage loss benefits, COP is subject to taxes and all other payroll deductions that are made from regular income.
The agency must continue the pay of an injured employee, who is eligible for COP, and may not require the employee to use his or her own sick or annual leave, unless special provisions apply. However, while continuing the employee's pay, the employer may controvert the employee's COP entitlement pending a final determination by OWCP. OWCP has the exclusive authority to determine questions of entitlement and all other issues relating to COP.