Key U.S. House Panel Passes Spanberger’s Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen VA Benefits for Veteran Firefighters, Recognize Long-Term Risks of Military Firefighting

The Bipartisan “Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act” is Named for a Virginia Veteran & Firefighter Who Passed Away in 2021 After Battling Cancer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan majority of a key U.S. House subcommittee today passed U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger’s bipartisan bill to provide Veteran military firefighters with the healthcare benefits and disability compensation they earned through their service.

This morning, the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee voted to advance Spanberger’s Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act. Her bipartisan 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. The Veterans Health Administration does not currently cover treatment costs related to these diseases, because 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 presumptive service-connected disability beyond one year following active duty.

“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,” said Spanberger. “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.”

The Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act — first introduced in January 2020 — is named for 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. 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 in 2021.

Earlier this month, Spanberger testified before the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in support of her legislation. In June 2023, Spanberger reintroduced her bipartisan bill — for the third time — alongside U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-02), a U.S. Air Force Veteran.

BACKGROUND

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 Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10), Donald Beyer (D-VA-08), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-05), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-AL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24), Ashley Hinson (R-IA-02), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-07), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), Jason Crow (D-CO-06), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Joe Neguse (D-CO-02), Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05), Andrew Garabino (R-NY-02), and Josh Harder (D-CA-09).

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