The courts can't give more help to three former Hill Air Force Base employees who suffered brain damage from exposure to toxic chemicals, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins has ruled.
The men, who filed suit in 1979, have been awarded about $17,500 in annual disability benefits. But they wanted Jenkins to reopen the case and hear arguments on whether they should be awarded additional compensation.Under the Federal Employment Compensation Act, former maintenance workers Clifford Buckley, James Galetkz and Carlos Martinez are eligible to receive "temporary" benefits.
Jenkins said he questioned why the men were not found to be permanently disabled.
"You don't regenerate brain tissues," the judge said. "As I understand it, brain damage is irreversible."
But Glen Dawson of the U.S. attorney's office for Utah said, under the act, permanent disability covers only such things as the loss of an arm, leg or eye. The men will have to continue undergoing "periodic" checks, he said, to keep receiving the so-called temporary benefits, which are non-taxable.
During a hearing Friday on a motion to set aside Jenkins' 1980 order dismissing a suit filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, Martinez's attorney, Richard Dibblee, said the former workers "are not being compensated for what they've suffered.
"These men are not being compensated for the damage done to them," Dibblee said. "The injuries were almost intentional. The Air Force should be responsible for its actions."
But Jenkins said, "Under the circumstances, all I can do is what I've done, deny your motion. I can't help you any further. The government argues it's covered and that's all there is."
The judge said he had tried in other cases to right federal government wrongs, but that he had not been "very good at that. Every time I do, I get into trouble with somebody."
However, Jenkins told the men "you may be in a position to ask Congress" for additional damages. He said Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is trying to help the men through legislation.