Firefighter cancer coverage ‘loophole’ posed with legislation on its 5th appearance in Richmond

Bill expands coverage for testicular, brain and colon cancers

ROANOKE, Va. – Persistence may soon be paying off for firefighters across the Commonwealth. They have pushed for expanded cancer coverage as many are developing it at an high rate.

Now, after five years of legislation, this year’s bill looks like it will become law.

Firefighters said state lawmakers were no longer able to overlook the problem in front of them and that’s why they think they are the closest they’ve ever been to getting it passed. In the Roanoke Valley, some firefighters have been pushing for these changes for nearly a decade.

Firefighters face extreme danger on the job and even the best gear in the world can’t stop cancer. Kevin Weeks is a retired Roanoke City fire captain and knows it all too well.

“Out of the last five years we’ve had three pass away, and we’ve had more than that over the last ten years," Weeks said.

The data continues to show firefighters are at a big risk. But right now, the state only covers a few cases of cancer, and not the big ones like colon, testicular and brain cancer.

Senator Jeremy McPike has sponsored a bill to change that for the last five years.

“This makes a big difference to people’s lives that firefighters put their lives on their line every single day for us. We need to back them up in their time of need,” McPike said.

McPike is a volunteer first responder and has pushed to get more cancers added to the list and close the loophole preventing firefighters from receiving on the job injury benefits for some of the more common types. Firefighters from the Roanoke Valley met with McPike alongside others from across the state this year to draft the plan, and after four years of failure, they feel it’s set up to pass.

“The senators and delegates have heard this time in, every single year, so repeating and not giving up has helped us finally to cross the finish line," McPike said.

While it’s not quite law yet, it cleared crossover with bipartisan support. Weeks feels confident this year is the year, but knows the battle isn’t over.

“it’s my new passion, fighting for the firefighters safety and their health. That’s what we wall fight for," Weeks said.

Firefighters are also looking to get expanded mental health coverage for things like PTSD. But that battle is looking a lot like the cancer battle did when it first started, with a lot of work left to do.

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