Spanberger Continues Fight to Pass Bipartisan Bill Named After Late Virginia Veteran Firefighter Mike Lecik, Recognize Diseases Tied to Military Service

The Congresswoman Led a Bipartisan Group of Her Colleagues in Pressing the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee to Bring Forward & Pass the “Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today led a group of Democrats and Republicans in pressing the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee to bring forward her bipartisan legislation to make sure veteran firefighters with serious diseases receive the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits they deserve.

Last year, Spanberger and U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-02) reintroduced their bipartisan Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act, which would provide America’s 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. 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 VA refused to recognize the service connection of his illness and repeatedly denied him benefits. He passed away last year.

In a letter sent to leaders of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, Spanberger, Bacon, and 11 of their colleagues urged the Committee to quickly pass this legislation and recognize the service connection of several diseases faced by veteran firefighters — including heart disease, lung disease, and certain cancers.

“A failure to extend this recognition of this service connection to our military firefighters would be a dereliction of our duty to those who put their lives on the line for our country,” said Spanberger and her colleagues. “Currently, the Veterans Administration (VA) does not recognize the direct service connection between military firefighting and cancer as a service-connected disability. As a result, the Veterans Health Administration continues to deny benefits to veteran firefighters suffering from cancer and other illnesses that are clearly linked to their service.”

They continued, “It is past time that both federal firefighters and veteran firefighters receive the benefits they deserve. The next step toward making that a reality would be for the U.S. House Veterans Committee to consider the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act. This bipartisan bill would create a presumptive service connection for military firefighters, acknowledging the same harm Congress acknowledged when we passed the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act.

Spanberger’s latest push is backed by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

“Military fire fighters serve the critical function of protecting our nation’s vital military installations, our nation’s warriors, and their families. For too long, the Veterans Administration has denied military fire fighters health benefits when they fall victim to occupational cancers, and heart and lung disease despite scientific links between firefighting and these deadly diseases,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President, International Association of Fire Fighters. “The IAFF proudly supports the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act, which is named after a fallen IAFF member. This must pass bill would grant former military fire fighters VA health benefits for occupational diseases that are on par with the protections 49 states provide for their local and state fire fighters.”

In May 2021, Spanberger honored Mike Lecik’s life, family, and legacy on the floor of the U.S. House and pushed for the passage of this legislation named in his honor. Spanberger and Bacon first introduced the bill in January 2020.

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.

Dear Chair Takano and Ranking Member Bost,

As sponsor and cosponsors of the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act (H.R.2111), we write to you today requesting the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee bring forward H.R.2111 for consideration as soon as possible to avoid disparities between the benefits provided to federal civilian firefighters and our federal military firefighters. It is critical that we reaffirm Congress’ commitment to our veterans and honor our pact by voting to cover the same conditions for military firefighters we have already voted to recognize for federal civilian firefighters earlier this year.

We were pleased the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee considered and passed out of committee the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act (H.R.2499) in March 2022. Currently, federal firefighters who suffer exposure-related illnesses must meet a difficult burden of proof to specify that their health condition is a result of their work environment. The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act would create a presumption of occupational illnesses for federal workers engaged in fire protection services who suffer from heart disease, lung disease and specific types of cancer. On May 11, 2022, we proudly voted with a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House to pass this critical piece of legislation, ensuring federal firefighters receive the health benefits and protections they deserve.

Passage of the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act is a critical first step toward recognizing what we all know to be true, and what the science shows us – firefighters are exposed to deadly chemicals, which may lead to cancer or other illnesses later in life. As the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee report for H.R.2499 states:

Many fire-related hazards are known to be cancer-causing chemicals, or carcinogens. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies chemicals according to their potential to cause cancer in humans: carcinogenic to humans, probably carcinogenic to humans, and possibly carcinogenic to humans. There are at least 11 chemicals frequently present in the firefighting environment that are classified by IARC as carcinogenic to humans, such as arsenic, asbestos, benzene, and formaldehyde. These chemicals are linked to cancers of the kidney, prostate, liver, and lung, as well as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Many other chemicals found in fire scenes are probably or possibly carcinogenic to humans.

The facts are clear and have now been clearly recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives. A failure to extend this recognition of this service connection to our military firefighters would be a dereliction of our duty to those who put their lives on the line for our country. Currently, the Veterans Administration (VA) does not recognize the direct service connection between military firefighting and cancer as a service-connected disability. As a result, the Veterans Health Administration continues to deny benefits to veteran firefighters suffering from cancer and other illnesses that are clearly linked to their service.

It is past time that both federal firefighters and veteran firefighters receive the benefits they deserve. The next step toward making that a reality would be for the U.S. House Veterans Committee to consider the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act. This bipartisan bill would create a presumptive service connection for military firefighters, acknowledging the same harm Congress acknowledged when we passed the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act. This bill is named after Michael Lecik, a military firefighter from Powhatan, Virginia, who was repeatedly denied benefits from the VA due to a lack of service connection for his multiple myeloma. Mr. Lecik passed away in March 2021 at the age of 41, leaving behind a wife and three daughters.

Unfortunately, more veteran firefighters who served our nation heroically and suffer with life-threatening illnesses continue to have their benefits denied by the VA today. These veterans and their families have waited long enough. By passing the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, the U.S. House did the right thing for our federal firefighters – and now we must do the right thing for our veteran firefighters. We urge you to bring forward H.R.2111 for consideration as soon as possible.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

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