Illnesses are the most pressing issue

Veterans of coal mining and their families understand all too well that what makes headlines – accidents such as explosions – constitutes a lesser peril than black lung disease. Yet outside coal country, the killer illness receives little attention.

It certainly does not seem to be a priority for President Barack Obama’s administration. At one point, federal officials planned to cut funding for black lung clinics in West Virginia.

And miners with the disease sometimes have to wait years while the Labor Department decides whether to grant them benefits provided for under federal law.

The Senate Health Committee is looking into the problem. Last week, senators were told the Labor Department has a backlog of about 3,000 black lung applications.

That is inexcusable. Congress should demand Obama’s administration address the problem.