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NOWCAP Black Lung Clinic coming to Campbell County Senior Center Feb. 29

Photo Credit: John Combs

GILLETTE, Wyo. — The NOWCAP Black Lung Clinic is coming to the Campbell County Senior Center in Gillette, Wyoming, on Feb. 29 to offer assistance and support to miners.

From noon to 4 p.m., NOWCAP will make itself available to assist miners in filling out claims for black lung benefits or signing up for screenings that are offered in Campbell County.

“Black lung is a lung disease that happens from inhaling coal dust,” said Sarah Salveson-Jones, the Program Director for the NOWCAP Black Lung Clinics. “And when I say coal dust, I mean that all of the dust at a mine is considered part of that.”

According to Salveson-Jones, there are two types of black lung: legal black lung and medical black lung. The difference between the two is that with legal black lung, individuals have an amount of coal dust in their lungs, and their lungs are not properly working because of it. Medical black lung is when an X-ray shows that a lung is full of dust.

“We don’t see as much medical black lung over here, but miners in surface mines still get that legal black lung,” Salveson-Jones stated. “It just seems to affect them differently out here; the type of dust that they’re exposed to is just different. It’s a different amount of exposure. Legal black lung is when your lungs just don’t work right anymore because you were exposed to coalmine dust.”

Salveson-Jones stated that Wyoming is full of miners who may have been exposed to black lung disease, and they want to help those people in any way that they can.

“NOWCAP is on a federal grant part of a black lung program,” she said. “We’re here specifically to help coal miners with their screenings and claims. That’s our main job. But we also try to help them with whatever they need. Sometimes people come down to our office and just want to chat and have coffee, or they need to fax something to their doctor, or something else. We try to do as much as we can for the coalminers in the area.”

Salveson-Jones said that the grant started in Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1982. NOWCAP has been providing screening services in the Gillette area since 2016.

“There are two major things that we do,” she shared. “We do screenings [for black lung] and we help miners file for black lung benefits. Filing for benefits starts a claim and we help them through that entire process. It’s kind of a lengthy process and it can be a little headache-y, so my job is to take some of that headache off of the miners.”

Screening-wise, NOWCAP offers chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests to miners, which then allows them to see if the miners qualify for benefits.

“We like to have people come through every one to two years, just to keep track of how they’re doing,” Salveson-Jones said. “Because even if you’ve left the coal mine and you don’t work there anymore, that dust never leaves and it can actually get worse over time.”

NOWCAP not only screens active miners; they screen retired miners as well.

“We’ll screen people who only worked in the mine for two years and then went and did something else,” she said. “As long as you worked in the coal mine at some point, we’ll screen you and we’ll talk to you about filing a claim.”

Whether those claims actually result in any monetary compensation is decided on a case-by-case basis, but there is a precedence for Wyoming coal miners getting financial benefits.

“There are Wyoming surface coal miners who are currently being paid black lung benefits,” Salveson-Jones stated. “People think it’s not happening, but it is. The last time I checked, there were about 30 people who were getting paid, and that doesn’t include people who have passed or moved away (the numbers are captured by state of residency). That also doesn’t include people who have started the claim process but haven’t gotten their first checks yet.”

Salveson-Jones said that the exact rate that people could receive goes up every year, but currently, the rate is $772.60 for a single person and $1,158.90 for a married couple per month. Rates also go up if the miners have a dependent.

“There’s really no downside to filing a claim if you’re not working in the coal mines right now,” she stated. “And I think it’s important that our coal miners know what’s going on with their health. I’ve seen a lot of coal miners — especially older, retired miners — and a lot of them aren’t doing great. And I just want people to take care of themselves, and I think the services we provide help to do that. Even if it’s just knowing we are here when you need us, I think it’s important that there’s an advocate for coal miners. And I think it’s important that they know we’re here.”

The NOWCAP Black Lung Clinics Informational Event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 29 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Campbell County Senior Center, located at 701 Stocktrail Ave. For more information, visit nowcapblacklung.org/ or call 307-672-0046.

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