Workers’ compensation legislation for Firefighters and First Responders update

February 13, 2020

Legislation, which has advanced from the House and the Senate, proposes adding several types of cancer to the list of illnesses presumed to be incurred in the course of employment for firefighters, as well as additional legislation applicable to multiple categories of first-responders that proposes adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an occupational illness.

As previously reported, the 2019 General Assembly passed legislation adding cancers of the brain, colon, and testes to the list of presumptive illnesses for firefighters. This legislation contained language that required the 2020 General Assembly to reenact the legislation upon consideration of a study published by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) on Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation system in order to become law. Legislation addressing PTSD as a presumptive illness did not pass the General Assembly but was referred to JLARC as well.

HB 783 (Askew) / SB 9 (Saslaw) add cancers of the colon, brain, or testes to the existing list of conditions currently presumed to be an occupational disease when developed by firefighters and certain public employees and therefore covered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. The bills also incorporate several recommendations from the JLARC study, which include reducing the years of service requirement for cancer presumptions for firefighters from 12 to five years in order to align more closely with national averages and eliminates the burden of proof requirement of firefighters for exposure to a toxic substance. The bill was amended to raise the years of service requirement for firefighters for hypertension and heart disease. SB 9 passed the Senate, 40-0. HB 783 passed the House, 99-0.

HB 438 (Heretick) / SB 561 (Vogel) establish that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an occupational disease for firefighters, law-enforcement officers, 9-1-1 emergency call takers, and other first responders and is therefore covered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. Given the number and type of employees impacted by this legislation and the nature of PTSD workers’ compensation claims, the potential fiscal impact to the state and local governments if enacted could likely be several orders of magnitude greater than the addition of the cancer presumptions, through the rise of insurance costs needed to fund additional liabilities. Though not opposed to the intent of the PTSD presumption bills, VACo staff has testified to concerns regarding the potential fiscal impact of the PTSD bills on localities. HB 438 passed the House, 96-0, while SB 561 passed the Senate, 37-2.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

 

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