On Floor of the U.S. House, Spanberger Honors Powhatan County Firefighter, Urges Support for Her Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen VA Benefits for Veteran Firefighters

The Congresswoman’s Bipartisan Legislation is Named after Michael Lecik, a Powhatan County Veteran & Firefighter Who Passed Away Earlier this Year Following a Long Battle with Cancer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to honor Powhatan County resident Michael Lecik — a veteran U.S. Air Force firefighter who passed away in March 2021.

Michael Lecik 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 served as the Assistant Fire Chief of 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, yet the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) refused to recognize the service connection of his illness.

Last month, Spanberger reintroduced her bipartisan bill named in Lecik’s honor — 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.

 

Click here to watch Spanberger’s full remarks, and a full transcript is printed below.

Madam Speaker, I rise to remember the life of a courageous, kind, and selfless Virginian — Mike Lecik.

Service was an unwavering part of who Mike was. Throughout his career, Mike served as an Air Force firefighter, an Assistant Fire Chief with the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Assistant Chief at the Huguenot Volunteer Fire Department in Central Virginia.

As an Air Force firefighter, Mike deployed twice to the Middle East. And after coming home to Powhatan County, he was proud to serve in his local Volunteer Fire Department. He cared deeply for his community and his country.

A few years ago, Mike was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer linked to the dangerous conditions of his service as an Air Force firefighter.

I first got to know Mike because the VA did not recognize this connection, and he wanted to do something about it. He wanted to learn more about how the system could be changed for the better — and for the benefit of his fellow servicemen and women.

This fight was not just about getting the support that he needed — rather, it was about the thousands of firefighters, just like him, who faced this challenge. Mike truly wanted every veteran firefighter to get the care they deserved. 

Mike passed away earlier this year at the age of 41.

He dedicated to his community and the safety of his neighbors and above all — his family. It was my honor to have him as a constituent.

Mike leaves behind a family and a community that deeply cared for him — and he leaves behind a cause that is worth championing.

Across the board, firefighters are more likely to be exposed to certain carcinogens. They are more likely to suffer certain diseases and illnesses because of their career — and they experience higher rates of cancer than the general U.S. population.

This connection is well-documented by scientific research. But it is yet to be recognized by the VA — the federal agency entrusted with caring for those who have borne the battle.

Military firefighters put their lives on the line each day — not just to defend our country, but also to selflessly defend their fellow servicemembers. But to this day, thousands of veteran firefighters are left uncovered by the VA for certain types of cancer treatment.

Earlier this year, I reintroduced the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act in Mike’s name to fix this longstanding issue. This bipartisan legislation would make sure diseases like Mike’s are recognized as presumptive service-connected disabilities.

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. It would lift an undue burden off thousands of veterans experiencing severe and often-terminal illnesses.

Right now, the VA doesn’t cover significant treatment costs like those faced by Mike, as the 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.

Our legislation would establish the presumption that veteran firefighters who become disabled by serious diseases — including heart disease, lung disease, and certain cancers like Mike’s — within 15 years of separating from active duty contracted the illness due to their service in the military.

By creating this presumption, the VA would be required to provide equitable disability benefits and treatment cost coverage to veteran firefighters like Mike.

This legislation has the support of Democrats and Republicans from across the political spectrum — including many who have served our country.

Specifically, I’d like to thank my Republican colleague Congressman Bacon of Nebraska — himself an Air Force veteran of nearly 30 years — for his continued partnership in leading this bill. Thank you for recognizing that this issue should unite us all, because we all represent veterans with stories like Mike’s.

Even as he was engaged in the battle of his life — for his life, Mike was eager to make progress on this issue. When I first reached out to Mike to ask whether he would like to be involved with this legislation, he never hesitated.

Mike had already been in touch with our team about some of his issues at the VA. And when asked if he wanted to take up this challenge and make a difference through the legislative process, he said, “Absolutely.” He was ready to take up the mantle for his fellow vets. It was his honor.

And even as his illness progressed, he stayed apprised of new developments on this legislation, and my team was humbled to work with him. He showed incredible strength and determination that we will never forget.

The Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act is about a fundamental question — how do we show our gratitude and appreciation to those who’ve served, to those who’ve put on the uniform, and to those who’ve worked under hazardous and dangerous conditions to keep their countrymen and their fellow servicemembers safe?

The answer is found beyond platitudes. It is found beyond spoken promises. It is found in action — and it is found in delivering the benefits our veterans have earned through their sacrifice.

No veteran who puts on the uniform should repeatedly have to make the argument that their injury — their illness — is connected to their service, when the evidence is so apparent—to the degree that the majority of our states have already recognized the link between these serious diseases and the occupational hazards of firefighting and have enacted presumptive disability laws.

In the case of Mike and thousands of firefighters like him, no veteran should experience a VA that refuses to help cover the costs of treating their service-connected cancer.

And as I urge my colleagues to recognize the urgent need to pass the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act, I am thinking of his wife Tiffany and his three daughters — Amery, Aubrey, and Addy. He loved them deeply, and I work in his honor.

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