DOL Policy Changes to Ensure Federal Fire Fighters Receive Workers’ Compensation for Job-Related Illnesses and Injuries

April 20 • 2022

Federal fire fighters have long faced challenges in receiving workers’ compensation benefits when injured or become ill in the line of duty. Based on fire fighters’ varied duties, claims analysts from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) struggled to process these claims correctly. Fire fighters experiencing incidences of cancer or suffering from non-traditional fire service injuries frequently faced denials for the benefits they deserved.

On April 20, elected leaders from all levels of the IAFF — national, state, local and federal — met with U.S. Labor Secretary Martin Walsh to discuss improvements. “Our 16th District brothers and sisters have tough jobs and will now receive the support they need while battling illnesses and injuries from serving our nation,” said General President Edward Kelly. “The IAFF appreciates Labor Secretary Walsh’s help to ensure federal fire fighters receive the hard-earned benefits they deserve. The Biden administration continues to deliver on its promise to be the most pro-union presidency in history.”

The IAFF has long lobbied the DOL, as well as various presidential administrations, to correct this oversight and to provide federal fire fighters with the benefits they deserve. These new policies at OWCP will assist federal fire fighters by making the following changes:

  • Special Claims Handling Unit: The DOL will establish a special claims handling unit within OWCP to focus solely on federal fire fighters’ claims. The claims analysts in this unit will receive special training to understand fire fighters’ unique jobs and that non-traditional and non-fire ground injuries are still covered by OWCP.
  • Cancer Coverage: DOL will establish new connections between the special claims handling unit and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to assess workers’ compensation claims from fire fighters suffering from cancer. Through these connections, NIOSH will use findings from the National Firefighter Cancer Registry and other projects to educate the special claims handling unit’s staff on the service connections between fire fighters’ jobs and incidences of cancer. While the DOL is unable to unilaterally establish a cancer presumption, this new partnership will better educate OWCP staffers and should lead to more approvals of benefits for fire fighters battling service-connected cancer.

The IAFF continues to urge Congress to pass the Federal Fire Fighter Fairness Act (HR 2499/S 1116), which would grant presumptive workers’ compensation benefits for federal fire fighters who develop cancer. Once passed by Congress, this legislation will build on the DOL’s latest policy changes and further expedite assistance for federal fire fighters.