US Department of Labor announces updates to better address federal firefighters with certain occupational illnesses’ benefits claims
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced an update in the Federal Employees’ Compensation Program that will streamline claims processing for federal firefighters with certain occupational diseases. The update, included in a new program bulletin that explains the 2022 changes, implements provisions of the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, signed by President Biden in December 2022.
In April 2022, the program changed its policy to ease requirements for evidence provided by federal firefighters to connect their toxic substance exposure with certain diseases and illnesses. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 establishes that fire protection activities can be the proximate cause for certain illnesses and diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters, and research suggests an increased risk of certain types of cancers for firefighters compared to the general population.
Each year, the department’s Office of Workers Compensation Programs receives approximately 2,600 compensation claims from federal firefighters. About 175 of these claims include conditions such as cancer, heart disease and lung disease. Before the 2022 policy change, OWCP accepted about 29 percent of these claims, on average. Since the change, the agency has accepted more than 90 percent of processed claims as of February 2023.
“The policy changes we are making will help us improve our service and make sure federal firefighters injured or sickened on the job are treated fairly,” said Office of Workers’ Compensation Director Christopher J. Godfrey.
The OWCP bulletin provides details on updates to the claims process for federal firefighters and outlines additional NDAA-related actions by FECA as follows:
- Promoting ongoing research by giving firefighters the opportunity to voluntarily register with the National Firefighter Registry at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- Continuing to regularly review the best scientific evidence to determine if additional conditions should be added to the list of high-risk diagnoses, including breast cancer, gynecological cancers and rhabdomyolysis.
- Supporting the work of the departments of the Interior and Agriculture and NIOSH to comprehensively study long-term health effects experienced by federal wildland firefighters after work exposures to fires, smoke and toxic fumes.
- Giving claimants 60 days to submit evidence for initial injury or disease claims, an increase of 30 days.