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Spanberger, Bacon Introduce Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act to Recognize Long-Term Risks of Military Firefighting, Strengthen VA Benefits for Veteran Firefighters

Bipartisan Legislation is Named After a Powhatan County Veteran & Firefighter Currently Battling Cancer

Washington, January 16, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today introduced a bipartisan bill to provide veteran firefighters with the fair compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits they’ve earned through their service.

The bipartisan legislation is named after Powhatan County resident Michael Lecik, a former U.S. Air Force firefighter who was twice deployed to the Middle East. His service ended in 2008.  In February 2019, Lecik was diagnosed with multiple myeloma—a condition tied to the high-risk, carcinogenic workplace conditions that come with being a military firefighter. However, the Veterans Health Administration does not currently cover Lecik’s significant treatment costs, as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—in many cases—does not recognize the direct service connection between firefighting and cancer as a presumptive service-connected disability beyond one year following active duty.

The Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act would create the presumption that veteran firefighters who become disabled by serious diseases—including heart disease, lung disease, and certain cancers—contracted the illness while serving in the military. Additionally, it would extend the window of time to recognize certain diseases as being service-connected to military firefighting to 15 years. By creating this presumption, the VA would be able to provide equitable disability benefits and treatment cost coverage to veteran firefighters like Lecik.

“Military firefighters put their lives on the line each day—not just to defend our country, but also to selflessly defend their fellow servicemembers. In the wake of his diagnosis, Mike and his family have demonstrated incredible strength, kindness, and bravery—traits he has always demonstrated in a life of service to others. He truly represents the best of the Seventh District, and his strength is an example and inspiration to me. Mike is selflessly committed to making sure that other military firefighters don’t face the same challenges he has, and I am proud of our work together on this legislation,” said Spanberger. “I’m honored to introduce this legislation in Mike’s name, because the VA is long overdue to provide veteran firefighters like Mike with the benefits they deserve. 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. I’d like to thank Congressman Bacon for joining this effort, and I’ll keep fighting to fix this unacceptable gap in veterans’ treatment.”

Spanberger introduced the legislation alongside U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-02), a U.S. Air Force veteran.

“I’ve served with hundreds of courageous and selfless military firefighters during my three decades in the Air Force. They were willing to pull us out of burning jets or carry us out of buildings engulfed in flames. In doing so, many came into contact with toxic substances and fumes,” said Bacon. “Our military firefighters deserve the same protections that other firefighters receive in our country by creating the presumption that those who become disabled from serious disease contracted the illness while serving in the military. This legislation ensures proper VA care.  Our firefighters have our backs day and night, and we need to reciprocate when they encounter illnesses caused by their official duties.”

“I was proud to serve my country as a military firefighter, and following my service, I was equally proud to build a life in Powhatan County with my wife and three girls. Since the diagnosis last year, I’ve been incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support from our neighbors across the Powhatan Community. But still, the rising costs associated with my diagnosis have made things difficult, especially as my condition is not recognized as service-connected by the VA,” said Lecik. “As a military firefighter, you take on massive amounts of risk, and you hope your country has your back. Especially amid high toxicity levels in materials currently used by the military, we need to take steps to take care of firefighters like me who eventually develop cancer or other diseases. I’d like to thank Congresswoman Spanberger for her leadership and determination in introducing this legislation, because this change would prevent high levels of stress and undue pain among veterans and their families.”

A 2010 study from the National Institute for 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. While many states have already recognized this link, the VA has not yet recognized this long-term presumptive disability—meaning thousands of U.S. veteran firefighters are left uncovered by the VA.

Following his military service, Lecik became a civilian firefighter and then became chief fire inspector at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee—and he also volunteered as a firefighter with the Huguenot Volunteer Fire Department. He resides in Powhatan County with his wife and three children.

Spanberger and Bacon’s legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Paul Mitchell (R-MI-10), Tom Cole (R-OK-04), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06), Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21), and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-05).

Click here to read the full bill text, and click here to read a Powhatan Today article featuring Lecik’s personal story.

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