Audit: Virginia should make it easier for firefighters to get cancer compensation

Former Richmond Fire Marshal David Creasy, pictured with his wife, Martha, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and died last fall. He spent much of his time at the end of his life educating firefighters and fighting for expanded workers' compensation coverage for cancer for firefighters. (NBC 12)

A comprehensive review of Virginia’s worker compensation claim system concluded the state should make it easier for firefighters and other public safety employees to get benefits for job-related maladies like cancer and PTSD, among other findings.

The review, conducted on behalf of state lawmakers by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee and presented Monday, found firefighters and police officers filing claims for cancer and PTSD are rarely successful if their employers contest the claims.

In the case of firefighters, they’re required to prove specific exposure to carcinogens on the job despite presumptions for specific kinds of cancer written into state law — something the analysts reviewing the system found is “difficult or impossible with existing technology and is cost prohibitive.”

In the case of police officers and other public safety employees who might seek benefits for PTSD, the study found claims were being rejected on the reasoning that a “shock or fright” they experienced would not have been unexpected in their line of work.

The analysts who reviewed the issues recommended legislative fixes in both cases. They also recommended ways to make the workers compensation system easier to interact with in general by more clearly laying out workers’ rights in the system and how to assert them.

Dozens of firefighters from around the state traveled to hear the report. They expressed agreement with the findings but frustration that it took months of study to evaluate their concerns with the existing system.

“I’m glad that this part is done and it’s being considered, but personally I feel it was a waste of time and a waste of effort and money, because we were telling them these things all along,” said Adrian Manning, a Newport News firefighter who said his claim for stage three cancer compensation was initially contested by the city. “I had documentation of exposure, 12 years of continuous service and they still denied it.”