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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 530

Location: Washington, DC

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S. 530
Washington, D.C.

S. 530. A bill to amend title 5, United States Code, to create a presumption that a disability or death of a Federal employee in fire protection activities caused by any of certain diseases is the result of the performance of such employee's duty; to the Committee on Governmental Affairs.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today I am introducing legislation on behalf of thousands of Federal firefighters and emergency response personnel worldwide who, at great risk to their own personal health and safety, protect America's defense, our veterans, Federal wildlands, and national treasures. Although the majority of these important Federal employees work for the Department of Defense, Federal firefighters are also employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Park Service. From first response emergency care services on military installations around the world to front-line defense against raging forest fires here at home, we call on these brave men and women to protect our national interests.

Yet under Federal law, compensation and retirement benefits are not provided to Federal employees who suffer from occupational illnesses unless they can specify the conditions of employment which caused their disease.
This onerous requirement makes it nearly impossible for Federal firefighters, who suffer from occupational diseases, to receive fair and just compensation or retirement benefits. The bureaucratic nightmare they must endure is burdensome, unnecessary, and in many cases, overwhelming. It is ironic and unjust that the very people we call on to protect our Federal interests are not afforded the very best health care and retirement benefits our Federal Government has to offer.

Today, I introduced legislation, the Federal Fire Fighters Fairness Act of 2003, which amends the Federal Employees Compensation Act to create a presumptive disability for firefighters who become disabled by heart and lung disease, cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, and infectious diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis. Disabilities related to the cancers, heart, lung, and infectious diseases enumerated in this important legislation would be considered job related for purposes of workers compensation and disability retirement—entitling those affected to the health care coverage and retirement benefits that they deserve.

Too frequently, the poisonous gases, toxic byproducts, asbestos, and other hazardous substances with which Federal firefighters and emergency response personnel come in contact, rob them of their health livelihood, and professional careers. The Federal Government should not rob them of necessary benefits. Thirty-eight States have already enacted a similar disability presumption law for Federal firefighters' counterparts working in similar
capacities on the State and local levels.

The effort behind the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2003 marks a significant advancement for firefighter health and safety. Since September 11, there has been an enhanced appreciation for the risks that firefighters and emergency response personnel face every day. Federal firefighters deserve our highest commendation and it is time to do the right thing for these important Federal employees.

The job of firefighting continues to be complex and dangerous. The nationwide increase in the use of hazardous materials, the recent rise in both natural and manmade disasters, and the threat of terrorism pose new threats to firefighter health and safety. The Federal Fire Fighters Fairness Act of 2003 will help protect the lives of our firefighters and it will provide them with a vehicle to secure their health and safety.

I urge my colleagues to embrace this bipartisan effort and support the Federal Fire Fighters Fairness Act of 2003 on behalf of our Nation's Federal firefighters and emergency response personnel.

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