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Spanberger Fighting to Strengthen Benefits for Veteran Firefighters

February 6, 2020 by Kate Michael
Spanberger Fighting to Strengthen Benefits for Veteran Firefighters

WASHINGTON — Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., believes veteran firefighters should receive fair retirement and health care benefits that better accord to their service to their country.

Toward that end, she’s introduced H.R. 5637, the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act.

The bill is named for Michael Lecik, from Virginia, a veteran Air Force firefighter twice deployed to the Middle East, whose service ended in 2008.  Lecik was diagnosed in 2019 and is currently battling myeloma, cancer tied to contact with toxic substances and fumes. 

While Lecik faced high-risk carcinogenic workplace conditions as a military firefighter, the Veterans Health Administration does not currently cover Lecik’s significant treatment costs, in part due to a statute of limitations.

In many cases, Veteran’s Affairs (VA) does not recognize a direct service connection between firefighting and cancer as a presumptive service-connected disability beyond one year following duty.

“Military firefighters put their lives on the line each day, not just to defend our country, but also to selflessly defend their fellow service members,” Spanberger said. 

“By recognizing the long-term effects of military firefighting and the diseases that can arise from this career over time, our bill would provide much-needed peace of mind and security to thousands of veteran firefighters and their families,” she said. “I’m honored to introduce this legislation in Mike’s name because the VA is long overdue to provide veteran firefighters like Mike the benefits they deserve.”

The Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act creates the presumption that serious debilitating illnesses, like heart disease, lung disease, and certain cancers, “shall be considered to have been incurred in or aggravated during active military, naval or air service,” and it extends the window of time to recognize these certain diseases as being service-connected to military firefighting. The new statute of limitations would be increased to 15 years.

A 2010 study from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that U.S. firefighters are more likely to suffer certain diseases and illnesses as a result of their career, and they experience higher rates of cancer than the general U.S. population. 

Proponents say the bipartisan sponsored H.R. 5637 would allow the VA to provide equitable disability benefits and treatment cost coverage to veteran firefighters.

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