Spanberger, Bacon Reintroduce 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 Who Passed Away Last Month After a Long Battle with Cancer
Washington, April 5, 2021
Tags: Veterans' Issues
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger reintroduced her bipartisan bill — the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act — 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, Virginia resident Michael Lecik, a former U.S. Air Force firefighter who was twice deployed to the Middle East. 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.
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. Lecik passed away last month.
The Veterans Health Administration does not currently cover treatment costs related to diseases like Lecik’s, as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) — in many cases — does not recognize the direct service connection between military firefighting and cancer as a service-connected disability beyond one year following active duty. Spanberger’s 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 due to their service in the military. Additionally, it would extend the window of time for veteran military firefighters with certain diseases to claim presumptive service-connection 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.
“Mike Lecik was dedicated to his family, his community, the safety of his neighbors, and his country. I first got to know Mike after the VA refused to recognize that his cancer was connected to his service. Immediately, I grew to know Mike’s character, kindness, and courage as he fought to make sure that thousands of firefighters, just like him, received the care they had earned,” said Spanberger. “This legislation would make sure diseases like Mike’s are recognized as service-connected disabilities — and that veteran firefighters can access the quality of care they deserve. It was my honor to know Mike, and it is my privilege to reintroduce this legislation — and push it forward with Congressman Bacon — in his name. My thoughts are also with Mike’s family, whom he loved unconditionally. His three daughters will grow up with an example of what it truly means to demonstrate strength — and what it means to never give up the fight.”
Spanberger reintroduced the legislation alongside U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-02), a U.S. Air Force veteran. Spanberger and Bacon first introduced the legislation in January 2020.
“After nearly 30 years in the Air Force, I’ve witnessed hundreds of heroic military firefighters who put their own lives on the line by carrying us out of burning buildings or jets and exposing themselves to toxic substances and deadly fumes,” said Bacon. “Creating the presumption that those who become disabled from serious disease contracted the illness while serving in the military allows the VA to treat thousands of military firefighters that would normally not be covered. This bill changes that. I fully support this mission and I will continue to work with Rep. Spanberger to not only get this over the finish line, but to honor the life of former USAF firefighter, Michael Lecik, to which this bill is named after."
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.
Spanberger and Bacon’s legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Peter Meijer (R-MI-03), Connor Lamb (D-PA-17), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Elaine Luria (D-VA-02), John Katko (R-NY-24), Donald S. Beyer (D-VA-08), Ashley Hinson (R-IA-01), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ-11), Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ-02), and Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY-03).