Va. firefighters hope this is the year cancer coverage ‘loophole’ is closed

Health

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Firefighters are hopeful that 2020 will be the year that a loophole is closed in the system that provides cancer coverage to firefighters.

On Wednesday, firefighters from across the state gathered at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond to once again call for the passage of bills that would amend the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Act to add several cancers — including brain, colon and testicular — to the list of presumed work-related illnesses in the act.

A 2013 government study, supported by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, shows firefighters are two times more likely to get testicular cancer. There’s an increased risk for multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, skin and prostate cancers, as well. 

Current law requires a firefighter to know exactly what carcinogens they were exposed to in order to get cancer coverage. Leaders from the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters are also lobbying for that to be removed.

“We have been encouraged by the positive response from legislators on our bills to improve cancer and behavioral health benefits for firefighters,” VPFF wrote on Facebook after meeting with lawmakers.

On Monday, the bill being supported by the union passed its first committee.

However, a bill with their backing also passed the full Senate last year, only to get referred to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission for a study by then-House Appropriations chair, now former Delegate Chris Jones.

The study, which was published last month, found “requirements to establish cancer presumptions are unreasonably burdensome and not supported by science. JLARC recommended that moving forward the cancer presumption should be modified to allow firefighters to meet the toxic exposure requirement through evidence that they responded to fires.

An easier system would also be welcomed by families.

“From simply trying to collect his paycheck for hours he was due on sick leave, to trying to get paperwork for his retirement and line of duty death benefits, the amount of questions that we had that no one could answer was astounding,” said Katy Fedorko, daughter of the late Captain Dave Hughes.

Hughes was with Norfolk Fire & Rescue when he died in August 2019 from “occupational cancer,” according to fire union leaders. He along with Heather Callahan, who also died from cancer while serving with the Chesapeake Fire Department, were remembered on the Capitol steps.

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