We are happy to report that the family of Transportation Security Officer Maui Kahalepuna who died of COVID-19 in December finally received workers’ compensation death benefits after several months of delay.
Kahalepuna, 43, was a Lead TSO at the Honolulu airport. He joined TSA in September 2002 and was part of the initial rollout of federal screening there. He contracted the virus in November and died a few weeks later.
With the help of our union, his wife filed for workers’ compensation death benefits a month after he died, but TSA did not respond to her claim for two months and tried to deny her benefits, claiming he did not contract the virus at work.
By law, TSA is required to process a workers’ compensation claim within 10 days and send the claim to the Labor Department, which decides whether to approve it.
Our union argued Kahalepuna got sick at work since a few other TSOs got sick at about the same time, while his wife and kids tested negative for the virus. AFGE helped the family file an appeal and won.
“The credit goes to so many AFGE employees who assisted me in fighting for the family’s rights and benefits,” said AFGE Workers Compensation Specialist Joe Mansour.
This case showed how difficult it was for families of federal workers who contracted COVID-19 at work and died to get the death benefits they were entitled to.
That’s why AFGE pushed for and won an automatic presumption of workplace illness for frontline federal workers, which is part of a COVID-19 relief bill that became law in March. The bill’s passage means workers don’t have to face denials or lengthy appeals when they get sick at work and seek the workers’ compensation benefits.