Firefighters get a big win at City Council

Denver firefighters now have a second option for covering cancer-related medical costs.

The Denver City Council unanimously approved a bill that allows firefighters to join the Voluntary Cancer Benefits Award Program (VCAP) set up by the Colorado Firefighter Heart and Cancer Benefits Trust.

This measure would exist in place of the existing workers' compensation program set up by the city, but there are a few key differences between the two programs that make the new one more attractive to city employees, city officials said.

"Instead of fighting to get the coverage, VCAP is presumptive that cancer was caused by firefighting," Devron McMillin, Denver's Director of Risk Management and Workers' Compensation said in an August Finance and Governance Committee meeting. "For the totality of this, VCAP needs to be part of our complete care for our members. That way we are flipping the burden of proof."

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The city's workers' compensation program is non-presumptive coverage, despite a 2007 attempt to categorize firefighter cancers as presumptive. In 2007, the Colorado Legislature passed the Firefighter Cancer Presumptive Act, which says if a firefighter is diagnosed with cancer five years after joining the fire department, that diagnosis is considered work related.

In July, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, identified firefighting as a "cancer causing profession."

"In 2017, the Colorado legislature created the VCAP program as an alternative to workers' compensation," McMillin noted.

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The program will cover several types of cancer: Brain, digestive, genitourinary, hematological and breast cancer. The plan will add thyroid cancer in 2023. Lung cancer was not included due to the fact that firefighters wear a self-contained breathing apparatus.

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In addition, VCAP uses a matrix to determine how much aid will be given. For example, a Stage 1 breast cancer diagnosis is Level 2, which will grant $10,407 in medical benefits. A terminal diagnosis will result in an immediate lump sum of $25,000.

The approved program could replace workers' compensation, but, according to McMillin, nothing prevents a firefighter from filing for both.

"There is nothing in the law that says you could not file for workers' compensation, as well. There's no presumption," she said. "If your claim under workers' compensation is approved, then indemnity benefits that you receive will be reduced by the amount of your VCAP (award)."

The contract between the City of Denver and the Colorado Firefighter Heart and Cancer Benefits Trust is worth $560,000.

It 's unclear how Denver firefighters would apply for the new program. Representatives of the city and McMillin did not immediately respond for comment.

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