Lima, OH Local 334 member Jeremy Welker is one of the first Ohio IAFF members approved to receive care under the Michael Louis Palumbo Act. Now, he can concentrate on healing instead of worrying about finances.
“Protecting our members’ and their families’ futures are the cornerstone of our union’s existence,” says 8th District Vice President Mark Sanders. “The Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters’ success in passing cancer presumption, along with the support of the IAFF, provides the best example of our work.”
The act, which was signed by Ohio Governor John Kasich in January 2017, created a presumption that if a fire fighter contracts cancer, it’s presumed to be contracted on the job and, therefore, fire fighters are eligible to receive both workers’ compensation and pension benefits.
“Brother Welker’s story is exactly what we had hoped for as legislation for occupational cancer presumption made its way to becoming law,” says OAPFF President Michael Taylor. “Jeremy’s approval to receive care under the Palumbo Act is not just a victory for the Welker family, but a victory for all Ohio fire fighters. And we will continue to support Jeremy and his family as he gets treatment for his occupational cancer.”
Local 334 member Jeremy Welker was off duty in May 2017 when he had a seizure. After a series of tests, a mass was found in his brain. Doctors could only remove part of the tumor for biopsy because it was near the part of Welker’s brain that controls his ability to speak. Had the entire tumor been removed, Welker would have lost his ability to speak. The biopsy determined the tumor to be cancer (grade three anaplastic-oligo dendroglioma).
Welker was prescribed six rounds of chemo. He is just finishing his third round.
“Just a few months before, I had been given the opportunity to purchase additional health insurance to cover cancer, just in case,” says Welker. “I didn’t know I would be needing it so soon. But the added coverage didn’t cover everything.”
Jeremy, a husband and father of three, adds, “Thinking about the future of my family, I applied for benefits through the Palumbo Act.”
Even after the chemotherapy, the piece of tumor left in Welker’s brain will still be there. Doctors will continue to monitor it for the foreseeable future, but the effects of the cancer mean Welker will never be able to return to the fire service.
Once applying for benefits to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, approval is not a guarantee. And, even if approved, the decision can be appealed by the local government — the City of Lima in this case — and other entities. But Welker was approved for both workers’ compensation and pension benefits without any challenges to the Bureau’s decision.
“It is very rare for a workers’ compensation or pension claim to go unchallenged,” says OAPFF 1st District Vice President and Lima Local 334 member Roy Hollenbacher, who assisted Welker with the related paperwork. “Since this case is no longer in litigation, Brother Welker is able to begin receiving his benefits right away.”
“We were warned that some of the applicants were being denied, but we were hopeful,” says Sheri Welker, Jeremy’s wife. “It was such a relief when he was approved. Because of these benefits, we know we are going to be okay.”
Workers’ compensation assists with medical costs, and reimbursed Welker for the sick time he used for cancer treatment. The pension benefit is determined by averaging wages for the last five years. Welker can receive up to 72 percent of that average.