‘It was long time coming’: Bill to expand firefighter cancer coverage passes Va House and Senate

Published: Feb. 9, 2020 at 9:43 PM EST
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Firefighters across the commonwealth may soon have the cancer coverage they have long asked for.

This week, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly passed 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 addition, a firefighter would no longer need to know exactly what carcinogens they were exposed to in order to get cancer coverage.

Both pieces of legislation were approved unanimously; a big departure from years past where the Virginia Municipal League staunchly opposed the bill, citing the increased costs it could add to local governments.

“This year, they didn’t even work to oppose it after JLARC revealed how bad the system really was,” said Max Gonano, president of Virginia Beach Professional Firefighters.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study, which was published last month, found “requirements to establish cancer presumptions are unreasonably burdensome and not supported by science.”

“It should have never been done the way it was,” Gonano said. “This was a long time coming.”

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.

“This does give the worker a fighting chance at least for getting covered for one of the 10 named cancers,” Ganono said.

At least one of the bills must be passed by the opposite chamber before heading to the governor’s desk.