A bipartisan letter from six senators has urged the Labor Department to act quickly to create a special unit to handle Federal Employees Compensation Act claims from federal firefighters, saying that firefighters who file FECA claims “are facing many challenges, and it is our understanding that firefighters are sometimes unable to obtain compensation for their medical treatment, especially those who assert long-term illnesses attributable to their work,” the letter said.
That is especially a concern regarding certain cancers or other long-term illnesses associated with firefighting risks, where claimants “are told that, because they cannot definitively prove the link between the illness and their job exposure, the federal government will not cover their medical expenses. This is simply unacceptable—these firefighters put their lives at risk to defend American lives and property, and they deserve our support.”
Wildland firefighters in particular “have recently reported difficulty getting their medical treatment costs for work-related injuries covered by the government within a reasonable timeframe,” they wrote, and as wildfires are becoming “larger, more frequent and more hazardous,” wildland firefighters will “likely sustain more work-related injuries and will increasingly be exposed to conditions that can lead to long-term illness and injury.”
The letter said that the program’s commitment to establish such a unit “is an excellent first step” but said the project should be expedited and should focus on both wildland firefighters and structural firefighters. “This new unit should ensure its examiners are aware of the particular risks facing firefighters and provide clear rationales for rejected claims to ensure that claims processing is efficient, accurate, and transparent,” they wrote.