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CBS19: U.S. House bill aims to help veteran firefighters

Washington, January 16, 2020
CBS19, NEWS STAFF

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. House that aims to help veteran firefighters.

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger and Congressman Don Bacon (R-Nebraska-02), a U.S. Air Force veteran, introduced the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act on Thursday. It aims to provide veteran firefighters will the compensation, health care, and retirement benefits they earned with their military service.

The bill is named for Michael Lecik, a Powhatan County resident who was deployed twice as a U.S. Air Force firefighter.

According to a release, Lecik was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in Feb. 2019, but the Veterans Health Administration does not cover the treatment costs for such disease because the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs does not often recognize the service connection between firefighting and cancer as a "presumptive service-connected disability" more than a year after active duty. Lecik's service ended in 2008.

The legislation would create a presumption that veteran firefighters who become disabled by certain diseases, such as heart disease, lung disease or certain cancers, contracted that illness during their military service.

The release says it would also extend the time frame during which certain diseases can be recognized as service-connected to military firefighting to 15 years.

"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 hand his family have demonstrated incredible strength, kindness and bravery, traits he has always demonstrated in a life of service to others," said Spanberger. "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."

She continues that by recognizing the long-term effect of military firefighting and the diseases that may arise from it over time, her legislation will give peace of mind and security to thousands of veteran firefighters and their families.

Bacon says he knows that many military firefighters came into contact with toxic substances and fumes while saving the lives of their compatriots.

"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," he said. "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."

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

Following his military service, the release says Lecik became a civilian firefighter and then chief fire inspector at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee. he also volunteered as a firefighter with the Huguenot Volunteer Fire Department.

This bill has been co-sponsored by Democrats Elissa Slotkin (Michigan), Chrissy Houlahan (Pennsylvania), and Josh Gottheimer (New Jersey) and Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania), Paul Mitchell (Michigan), Tome Cole (Oklahoma), and Elise Stefanik (New York).
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