Michael Reddell is a member of Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522.

Another View: Bill resets public safety workers' death clock

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2E
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012 - 12:53 pm

Michael Reddell, a member of Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522, is responding to the Aug. 8 editorial "Yet another benefits boost at the Capitol?" and the Aug. 12 editorial "Summer giveaway must be stopped." The editorials pointed out that Assembly Bill 2451, which "removes the statute of limitations for job-related survivor death benefits for peace officers and firefighters" with the benefit valued between $250,000 and $300,000, is fiscally irresponsible and should not become law.

As a firefighter, I knew I might put my life on the line, but I never truly understood what that meant until I was diagnosed with lymphoma just about a year ago. My doctor and my department agree: I got it "in the line of duty." Thanks to medical science, I went into remission.

Dozens of research studies link public safety with cancer and heart attacks. California and 31 other states recognize this link through public safety presumption laws. If we can document exposures reasonably linked to the job – and believe me, we have to prove it – the employer must prove it wasn't job-caused.

For me the most important part of this is the survivor benefit. I'm 43 years old, and have a wife and two young children. If my job winds up claiming my life, I want them to have a little comfort.

The presumption is hardly open-ended. A claim must be accepted as job-caused, before an eligible survivor can even apply for benefits. But there's a clock ticking: Once the claim is accepted, the individual has to die within five years of the date of the diagnosis in order to preserve their family's eligibility for a survivor benefit.

Somehow hold on for five years and a day, and your loved ones lose any death benefit.

It is this type of scenario – and only this type – that's at the heart of Assembly Bill 2451. The bill says that if a workers' comp claim for an illness covered by presumption laws is made within the existing statute of limitations and that illness results in death, survivor benefits will be tied to the date of death. This provision already exists for HIV and asbestosis.

The suggestion that this is some sort of get-rich-quick scheme that will bankrupt local governments is ludicrous, insulting and untrue. A massive body of workers' comp law spells out who can file presumptive claims and how long they have to make the claim. AB 2451 changes none of this.

Survivors of stricken firefighters and police officers will still have to follow the government's paperwork clock. They just won't have to follow the government's death clock.

Earlier this year, I learned that my cancer had returned. For me, that clock has started again. From where I stand, providing my family modest peace of mind if I were to die isn't an outrage – it's simple compassion.

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