Benefits Granted for Widows of Coal Miners with Black Lung Disease

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SCRANTON -- A Federal Appeals Court recently cleared the way for several area widows to collect benefits they badly need to make ends meet.

The court ruled that widows of coal miners who suffered from black lung disease can now get benefits that were denied, when their husbands died.

81-year-old Gloria Gambini of Peckville said her late husband Leonard never talked much about his work in the coal mines of Lackawanna County`s mid-valley.

"When you have a family to support, you have to keep on going," said Gloria.

For years, Gloria claims her husband kept going no matter what, especially one day when Leonard's brother was trapped in a mine shaft.

"A big slab of rock came down," recalled Gloria,  "And everybody ran away, but my husband remained behind to get that off of his brother."

But Gloria tempers her stories of heroism with memories of tough times.

Gloria says that Leonard, towards the end of his working life, would emerge from the mines tired, and struggling for breath.  He was later diagnosed with black lung disease.

Leonard had to quit work, his health deteriorated over the years, and when he wanted to play with his only grandson, he couldn`t even walk.

"He`d be on the couch laying down, and he`d get on his knees and he`d be crying and he`d kiss the baby, kiss him because he knew he wasn`t going to live too long," she said.

Leonard died in March 2001.

That same month, the government terminated black lung death benefits to Gloria.

Attorney George Mehalchick says the federal government claimed Gloria was in the same boat as dozens of other widows:  She could not prove black lung disease caused her husband's death.

"The government and coal companies had resources," said Mehalchick, "Versus a widow with limited resources or no resources who could fight that."

Mehalchick says Gloria and other widows no longer need to fight.

A federal appeals court this month ruled survivors of miners who suffered from black lung disease are entitled to benefits they were denied in the past 30 years.

Benefits, Mehalchick says, their husbands worked hard to receive. "These miners are getting recognized for the suffering they`ve gone through"

Gloria Gambini, along with other widows of coal miners, will soon receive black lung benefits that will pay them $625 per month making their golden years a little more comfortable.

The United Mine Workers believe there could be up to 10,000 widows eligible, including dozens here in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania.

If you know of anyone who needs help. They can get the process started by calling 1-800-347-3753, or clicking this link for the Federal Government's Black Lung benefits form.

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