The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 288-131 to pass legislation aimed at making it easier for federal firefighters to seek federal disability benefits for a number of chronic health conditions.

Federal Fire Justice Act (HR 2499), introduced by Representative Salud Carbahal, D-California, will create a presumption that federal firefighters with at least five years of experience who develop any of a number of serious health conditions, including lung disease and long, brain and digestive cancers, this is due to exposing the workplace to smoke and other hazardous materials for the purpose of providing compensation to workers through the Federal Employee Compensation Act.

Until recently, federal firefighters who developed chronic conditions such as lung cancer struggled to provide federal disability benefits in the workplace because it is difficult to trace these diseases to a specific incident of exposure to smoke or other hazardous materials. Last month, the Ministry of Labor set up a special claims unit to process workers’ claims for compensation from federal firefighters and waive the requirement for them to provide evidence to prove a causal link between their work and their condition.

Supporters argue that the requirement for federal firefighters to prove that a series of chronic firefighting diseases have developed due to exposure to work, especially since state and local firefighters in 48 states are already taking advantage of the presumption that these conditions are were caused at work.

“Our federal firefighters are fighting side by side with their state and local counterparts, but these state and local counterparts have advantages and presumptions that our federal firefighters do not have,” said House of Representatives majority leader Stenny Hoyer, MD. “[There] is often an insurmountable burden of proof to prove that their injuries occurred during work. . . Numerous studies have found a link between these diseases and the dangers they face in their work, and 48 states have similar laws that create these assumptions for municipal, county and state firefighters.

But some Republicans opposed the measure, saying it would allow federal firefighters who develop cancer due to unrelated activities to receive benefits they are not entitled to, and that it would create a “two-tier” system of federal workers who seek workers’ benefits.

“For example, if a federal border patrol is diagnosed with skin cancer from sun exposure due to its duties, it will go through the FECA process, but if a firefighter gets lung cancer from smoking, he is automatically entitled to benefits under the law.” said the representative. Virginia Fox, RN.C. “The federal government should not treat workers differently based on their occupations.”

But Bobby Scott’s spokesman, D-Va., Said the federal government had already created similar presumptions in other cases.

“Energy officials have presumed benefits for cancer and disease that put them at increased risk of developing it,” Scott said. “And [Veterans Affairs Department] suggests that certain conditions were caused by military service, such as those related to Agent Orange. There is the Liver Compensation Program, a program favored by 9/11 first responders that also works in many cases on presumption.

In addition, thanks to a unanimous amendment by Representative David Joyce, Ohio, all federal workers who must provide evidence to prove an injury at work will have 60 days to present that evidence instead of the current deadline. of 30 days.

The bill is now before the Senate.

Lawmakers impose a special rate on wages to hire firefighters

A bipartisan and bicameral group of 27 lawmakers on Tuesday called on the Biden administration to set a special rate for recruiting federal firefighters, in the face of what they described as “critical staff shortages” at the start of the annual forest fire season.

IN letter to the Minister of Agriculture Tom Wilsak, the Minister of the Interior Deb Haaland and the Director of the Personnel Management Service Kieran Ahuja, the legislators led by Senator Kirsten Cinema, D-Ariz., and a representative of Katie Porter, D-California, said a special rate payment is necessary, especially as the demand for firefighters in the wild grows every year.

“Years of low pay and other problems have exhausted the federal wildfire workforce,” they wrote. “Last year, firefighters failed to fulfill an unprecedented 1,800 interdepartmental requests for wildfire firefighting teams and more than 1,900 requests for fire trucks. In one state, the U.S. Forest Service had 60 engines idling due to low staff in the midst of the largest fire in the state’s history. “

According to the letter, staff estimates that staff will be below 75% of the posts allowed in some regions this year. They called on OPM to set a special pay rate to attract new firefighters and consider adding a number of benefits to the position as the agency plans to create a new professional series for wildfire firefighters as part of implementing the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“This series of jobs is an important step towards sustainable livelihoods and careers for federal wildfire firefighters, with other steps including housing support, a modified schedule and vacation policies that reflect the unique nature of wildfire firefighting,” they wrote. “A new series of jobs that maintains the status quo could lead to an increase in resignations just at the beginning of the fire season, and OPM needs to be aware of how it will use special powers in the short term to address any shortcomings in the new professional series for firefighters. The wild nature “

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