Spanberger Testifies Before Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Makes Case for Bill to Address Long-Term Risks of Military Firefighting & Strengthen VA Benefits for Veteran

The Congresswoman’s Bipartisan “Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act” is Named for Virginia Veteran & Firefighter Who Passed Away in 2021 After a Long Battle with Cancer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to make the case for her bipartisan legislation to provide Veteran firefighters with the compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits they’ve earned through their service.

Spanberger testified as part of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on disability assistance and memorial affairs, which focused on pending legislation before the Committee. During her comments, she urged her colleagues to consider her bipartisan Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act — which falls under the Committee’s jurisdictionClick here to watch her full testimony.

“I stand here today not only as a Congresswoman, but also as a Representative who had the privilege of getting to know Mike Lecik and his family — including his wife Tiffany and his three beautiful daughters. Mike was a former U.S. Air Force firefighter who selflessly served our nation. He deployed twice to the Middle East. He later became the Chief Fire Inspector at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Gregg-Adams,” said Spanberger. “In 2021 Mike Lecik tragically passed away due to multiple myeloma — a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the body’s plasma cells. He was only 41 years old.”

Spanberger continued, “Mike’s service to our country undoubtedly led to his cancer – and civilian fire departments across the country recognize the connection between the chemicals used in firefighting and certain types of cancers. However, the Veterans Health Administration currently does not cover treatment costs for diseases like Mike’s — because the VA still, inexplicably, fails to recognize the direct service connection between military firefighting and life-threatening illnesses such as his if it is more than one year beyond active duty. This injustice must be rectified.”

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.

BACKGROUND

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. In June 2023, Spanberger reintroduced the legislation — for the third time — alongside U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-02), a U.S. Air Force Veteran.

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.

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-2), and Josh Harder (D-CA-9).

TRANSCRIPT

A full transcript of Spanberger’s comments is below.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee in support of my bipartisan “Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act.”

I’m here today not only as a Congresswoman, but also as a Representative who had the privilege of getting to know Mike Lecik and his family — including his wife Tiffany and his three beautiful daughters.

Mike was a former U.S. Air Force firefighter who selflessly served our nation. He deployed twice to the Middle East. He later became the Chief Fire Inspector at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Gregg-Adams. In 2021, Mike Lecik tragically passed away due to multiple myeloma — a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the body’s plasma cells. He was only 41 years old.

Mike’s service to our country undoubtedly led to his cancer — and civilian fire departments across the country recognize the connection between the chemicals used in firefighting and certain types of cancers.

However, the Veterans Health Administration currently does not cover treatment costs for diseases like Mike’s — because the VA still, inexplicably, fails to recognize the direct service connection between military firefighting and life-threatening illnesses such as his if it is more than one year beyond active duty. This injustice must be rectified.

The Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act would finally provide Veteran firefighters with the compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits they have earned through their service. This legislation would create a presumption that Veteran firefighters who become disabled by serious diseases — including heart disease, lung disease, and certain cancers — contracted these illnesses due to their military service. This presumption of service-connected illness is so important.

It would also extend the window of time for Veteran military firefighters to claim presumptive service-connection to 15 years. By establishing this presumption, the VA would finally be able to provide long overdue benefits and treatment cost coverage to Veteran firefighters like Mike — who gave so much of themselves to protect our country.

I’m proud to lead this legislation alongside my Republican colleague, Congressman Don Bacon, himself a former U.S. Air Force Chief. Our bill would, at long last, recognize the link between occupational hazards faced by military firefighters and the development of these devastating diseases.

Scientific evidence demonstrates the connection between firefighting and the increased risk of certain diseases, and it’s time for the VA to recognize this fact. Many states have already acknowledged this link, but the VA does not.

We have bipartisan support to fix this issue, demonstrating that this is a cause that transcends party lines and unites us in the name of gratitude to our military firefighters.

Throughout his fight with cancer, Mike never stopped advocating for his fellow Veteran firefighters. It’s why I introduced this bill. It’s why I continue to push for it. As Members of Congress, in his memory, in his honor, we now have the opportunity to make sure his fellow military firefighters receive the care, benefits, and recognition they deserve.

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