Missouri firefighters and their families would find it easier to get disability and death benefits for job-related cancers under legislation endorsed Wednesday by Gov. Eric Greitens.
The change would shift the burden of proof on whether a cancer was job related. That burden now rests with firefighters or their survivors. As a result, very few applications for benefits are ever granted without costly litigation in Missouri, The Star reported earlier this year.
Greitens, a Republican, announced his support for amending the law at an event in St. Louis attended by Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
According to the bill summary, the proposed legislation would presume that cancer is job related when it is diagnosed in firefighters “assigned to a certain number of years of hazardous duty, exposed to certain agents.”
“Fighting fires is much more dangerous than most people realize and the IAFF applauds Gov. Greitens for recognizing the hazardous nature of the work our members do every day saving families, businesses and the communities they serve,” Schaitberger said.
Heart attacks were long said to be the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the nation’s fire service. But the union, citing federal statistics, has long claimed that exposure to toxins and carcinogens now kills more firefighters.
Thirty-six states have legislation similar to the provisions for which Greitens announced his support. Missouri and Kansas do not.
Firefighter cancer presumption legislation came up for a hearing in the Missouri house last February, but Rep. Shane Roden’s bill didn’t advance out of committee.
A volunteer firefighter and paramedic, Roden, a Cedar Hill Republican, said he’s happy to have Greitens’ support on the issue. Roden’s prefiled a new bill, HB 1641, Monday for consideration in the upcoming legislative session. An identical bill has been filed in the Senate.
“I think we have a really good chance with the governor’s support (of) now getting the other legislators on board,” Roden said.
At the St. Louis event, Greitens endorsed a similar proposal from Rep. Nick Schroer that he prefiled after Roden’s bill thatwould also add workers’ comp coverage for post traumatic stress syndrome.
The Missouri Municipal League has opposed presumptive cancer legislation in the past, fearing that workers’ comp claims would bust local governments’ budgets. But because of some modifications in the new bill, the league “will stand down” this year and offer no opposition, deputy director Richard Sheets said.