Department of Labor announces streamlined claims process for federal firefighters with certain occupational illnesses
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor issued a policy bulletin announcing changes by its Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs to assist federal firefighters with certain occupational illnesses by making it easier for claimants to file certain claims and improving transparency in how claims are processed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters, and research suggests firefighters are at increased risk of certain types of cancers compared to the general population. Each year, OWCP receives approximately 2,600 workers’ compensation claims from federal firefighters. Of those, about 175 claims include conditions such as cancer, heart disease and lung disease.
“Among our nation’s public service workers, federal firefighters are some of the bravest,” said Office of Workers’ Compensation Director Christopher J. Godfrey. “Historically they have faced unique challenges in establishing causation for occupational disease claims. The policy changes we are making will help us improve our service to federal firefighters and assist them through the claims process.”
Later today, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and OWCP Director Godfrey are scheduled to meet with members of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the National Federation of Federal Employees in Los Angeles to discuss the policy changes.
The “Special Case Handling in Certain Firefighter FECA Claims Processing and Adjudication” bulletin puts into effect changes to ease the evidentiary requirements needed to support claims filed by federal employees engaged in fire protection and suppression activities for certain cancers, heart conditions and lung conditions.
To implement the policy changes, OWCP has created a special claims unit to process federal firefighters’ claims. The unit consists of existing staff specifically trained to handle these claims. The agency is also providing comprehensive training to the unit’s examiners on the impacts of the policy changes, and working with federal agencies including the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior to explain the changes in policy and procedures.