Bipartisan Legislation is Named For Michael Lecik, Virginia Veteran & Firefighter Who Passed Away in 2021 After a Long Battle with Cancer
**DOWNLOADABLE VIDEO: Spanberger Testifies Before House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to Make Case for Compensation, Care, & Benefits for Veteran Firefighters**
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger today reintroduced her bipartisan legislation to provide Veteran firefighters with the compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits they’ve earned through their service.
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.
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 presumptive 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.
Spanberger testified today before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to make the case for her bipartisan bill and urge her colleagues to consider the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act — which falls under the Committee’s jurisdiction. Click here to watch her full testimony.
“In 2019, a 39-year-old Veteran Air Force firefighter contacted my office about having been denied the VA benefits he had earned. Mike Lecik served as an Air Force firefighter, deploying twice to the Middle East. And after coming home to Powhatan County, he proudly served in his local volunteer fire department and as Chief Fire Inspector at Fort Lee. Mike was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an aggressive and rare type of cancer that attacks the body’s plasma cells,” said Spanberger. “But when he went to the VA for care, he was told that the VA would not cover treatment costs for his illness — because they do not recognize the service connection between military firefighting and deadly diseases like Mike’s.”
Spanberger continued, “We know that Mike’s service to our country — his devotion to our nation’s strength and security — led to his multiple myeloma. And that’s what makes the VA’s denial of his benefits all the more shameful. In March 2021, Mike passed away at 41 years old, leaving behind his wife Tiffany and his three bright, beautiful daughters. Today, I’ll be reintroducing the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act — for the third time — alongside my colleague Don Bacon, himself a former U.S. Air Force Chief. Our bill would finally — finally — recognize the connection between the occupational hazards military firefighters face and these deadly diseases.”
Spanberger reintroduced the legislation — for the third time — alongside U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-02), a U.S. Air Force Veteran.
“After exposure to flames, smoke, and toxins, firefighters face an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular and lung diseases,” said Bacon. “These heroes take on an increased risk, but when they go to seek treatment, they face obstacles when trying to access disability benefits. We know the statistics of cancer and other diseases are higher among firefighters, and we should be there to support them, if, heaven forbid, they do receive a devastating diagnosis.”
“Military fire fighters play a crucial role in safeguarding our nation’s essential military installations, warriors, and their families,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President, International Association of Fire Fighters. “Unfortunately, former military fire fighters who suffer from occupational cancers, heart disease, and lung disease often are denied health benefits by the Veterans Administration despite scientific evidence linking these diseases to firefighting. The International Association of Fire Fighters strongly supports the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act, named after a fallen IAFF member. This vital legislation aims to provide former military fire fighters with VA health benefits for occupational diseases, bringing them in line with the protections already granted to federal civilian fire fighters as well as those serving in 49 states.”
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 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), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05).
Click here to read the full bill text, and click here to read a January 2020 Powhatan Today article focused on the bill’s first introduction, featuring comments from Lecik.
Last year, Spanberger voted with Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House to pass the Honoring our PACT Act, which expanded healthcare benefits for 3.5 million Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service. The bipartisan legislation — which the President signed into law — also included Spanberger’s amendment pressing the VA to investigate the long-term, negative health impacts of jet fuel exposure on America’s servicemembers. The bipartisan amendment was drawn from her William Collins Jet Fuel Exposure Recognition Act, which is named in honor of William G. Collins — a U.S. Air Force Veteran and Virginia resident living with Parkinson’s.
After President Biden signed the Honoring Our PACT Act into law, Spanberger called on the VA to move forward with the formal process of extending VA benefits to Veteran firefighters living with chronic illnesses.