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Bill would provide firefighters who are veterans VA benefits for career-related illnesses

Rebecca Barnabi
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U.S. firefighters are more likely to suffer certain diseases and illnesses as a result of their career, and experience higher rates of cancer than the general U.S. population.

The information comes from a 2010 study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, but many states have already recognized the link, although the Department of Veterans Affairs has not. Thousands of U.S. veteran firefighters are left uncovered by the VA.

The Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act, named for a Virginia veteran and firefighter who died in 2021 after battling cancer, would provide veteran military firefighters with the healthcare benefits and disability compensation they earned through their service.

The legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, was approved today by the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee. The legislation would create the presumption that veteran military firefighters who become disabled by serious diseases, including heart disease, lung disease and certain cancers, contracted their illness due to their military service.

“For several years, we’ve worked to rectify this injustice for military firefighters like my late constituent Mike Lecik — who tirelessly advocated for the dignity of his fellow Veterans. This moment marks major progress for our military firefighters and their families, particularly those who’ve felt the impacts of life-threatening diseases caused by their service to our country,” Spanberger said. “I look forward to the full U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee passing our commonsense, bipartisan legislation as soon as possible — so that the full U.S House can then take a vote. Our Veteran firefighters have waited far too long for this peace of mind.”

Spanberger first introduced the legislation in January 2020. Lecik, a former U.S. Air Force firefighter who was twice deployed to the Middle East, followed his military service by serving as a civilian firefighter and became chief fire inspector at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee. In February 2019, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — a condition tied to the high-risk, carcinogenic workplace conditions that come with being a military firefighter.

Spanberger testified in early November before the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in support of her legislation. In June 2023, she reintroduced the bipartisan bill for the third time alongside U.S. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, a U.S. Air Force veteran.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.