RECOGNIZING THE PUBLIC SERVICE OF RON CARSON

March 1, 2018
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I am honored to rise, on behalf of Congressman Morgan Griffith and myself, to recognize the achievements of Ron Carson who has made the plight of tens of thousands of disabled coal miners a central part of his life's work. Through his decades of work directing three black lung clinics in Southwest Virginia, and tireless advocacy efforts across the coal fields of this country, he offered help and hope to miners whose lungs were irreversibly scarred with the scourge of black lung disease.

Ron was born in Pennington Gap, Virginia during segregation. He attended a one-room primary school on land that his great-great-grandmother, Rachael Scott, had donated in 1939 for education of black children in Lee County. Ron and his wife Jill, a Member of the Town Council in Pennington Gap, founded the Appalachian African American Cultural Center in that same brick school house, which now preserves the life stories, history, heritage, culture and events of African Americans in Southwest Virginia. Although segregated in housing and schools, African Americans found a measure of inclusion in Central Appalachia, where they were able to work free from the harsh conditions in the Deep South, and many received equal pay for their work mining coal.

Ron worked for Westmoreland Coal Co. in Appalachia, Virginia as did his stepfather. His grandfather and great-grandfather both worked for many years for Blue Diamond Coal in Bonny Blue, Virginia. Ron later attended the Massachusetts School of Pharmacy, and in 1990 returned as an outreach worker in the black lung clinic operating out of the St. Charles Community Health Clinic. For the past 20 years he has served as the director of three black lung clinics which are now part of Stone Mountain Health Services. In addition to helping miners secure diagnostic tests, treatment and benefits counseling, Ron led an effort to develop what is now the largest program for non-lawyers to successfully advocate for black lung benefits before the U.S. Department of Labor.

There are very few attorneys who represent miners filing claims for black lung benefits. And, coal miners proceeding pro se are no match for the expert legal and medical resources that coal companies and insurers dedicate to each case. Ron and his team have worked to fill this void by providing training for clinics, doctors, lawyers and lay representatives in all 15 coal producing states. The lay advocates working for the Stone Mountain clinics have helped miners win over 2,000 black lung claims in the past 17 years.

In recent years, Ron documented how miners with progressive massive fibrosis (PMF), the most advanced form of black lung disease, have flooded the clinics in southwestern Virginia. Working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), he recently co-authored an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association which verified an epidemic of this lethal form of the disease in Central Appalachia and helped to elevate national awareness. ``Mining disasters get monuments, meanwhile black lung deaths get tombstones. And I've seen many a tombstone in the last 28 years from black lung,'' he noted.

At a roundtable Ron organized in Wise, Virginia, disabled miners, physicians and lawyers explained how the current black lung adjudication process keeps justice out of reach for far too many deserving miners and survivors.

Ron Carson has been accessible to Members of Congress and provided wise counsel, as well as compassionate and enduring service to his community. He has been recognized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and his peers in the black lung community. On behalf of our colleagues in the House of Representatives, Congressman Griffith and I extend our appreciation for Ron's service to those in need.