Fifty years ago, the Benefits Review Board was created to address workers’ compensation claim appeals related to the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Black Lung benefits amendments to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.
Much of the board’s work is steeped in administrative law, with procedural, medical and constitutional issues added for good measure.
It’s challenging but rewarding work, and one of the perks is the stability it provides for members and staff. During their recent 50th anniversary celebration, several members said working at the Benefits Review Board allowed them more flexibility than their colleagues in private practice enjoyed, helping them be present for their families while practicing meaningful and significant law.
Since the Benefits Review Board is less known than other Department of Labor agencies, here’s a brief overview by the numbers:
That’s when the first three-member Interim Board was established, with Acting Chairman Alfred G. Albert and members E. West Parkinson and Jeter S. Ray.
There have been 10 chairs of the Benefits Review Board since then. Current Chairman and Chief Administrative Appeals Judge Daniel T. Gresh has served since February 2023.
That’s the current staffing of attorneys in the board’s Office of General Counsel.
The board has seen a high of 105 from 1989-1990 and a low of 9 in 1977, with attorneys currently working in four divisions (three Black Lung Divisions and one Longshore Division).
That’s how many years Tom Shepherd, the current clerk of the Department’s three adjudicatory appellate boards, has worked for the Benefits Review Board — making him the longest-serving attorney.
Maureen Hatcher retired in 2016 as the longest-serving Black Lung attorney (36 years), and Karen Koenig retired in 2021 as the longest-serving longshore attorney (35 years).
That’s the number of decisions the board has issued since its inception – including 54,000 related to Black Lung cases and nearly 22,000 related to longshore cases.
The board issued 3,742 Black Lung decisions in 1990 – the most it has ever issued in one year.
The board issued 3,417 longshore decisions in 1996 – the most it has ever issued in one year.
That’s who is at the center of each case: one worker who suffered an injury or illness at work – and sometimes died as a result. After the worker, or the family, filed a claim seeking compensation and the claim was denied, they appealed to the Benefits Review Board.
For 50 years and counting, the Benefits Review Board has quietly, yet meticulously, sought to ensure that workers and their families receive a fair and impartial outcome – and the benefits they deserve – after being injured or sickened on the job.
Daniel T. Gresh is the Benefits Review Board chairman and chief administrative appeals judge.