Every day, Virginia’s firefighters risk their lives to save others. They brave fires and smoke, but those may not even be the deadliest threats they face. Many fires also release carcinogenic chemicals into the air and put firefighters at a higher than average risk for cancer.

After 9/11, studies found that firefighters got hit by several types of cancer at a much higher rate than the general population. Most states have since responded by passing new workers’ compensation laws. They presume that firefighters diagnosed with these types of cancer got them on the job. But even with these new laws, some firefighters have had their claims denied.

Fighting for their lives

Cancer treatments are expensive. As The Washington Post reported, a single leukemia claim could cost as much as $3 million, and firefighters rarely have the money to cover their medical bills on their own. So when firefighters have their claims denied, they find themselves forced to fight extra battles. They need to fight the cancer, and they need to fight for the benefits they expected would help them.

Self-insured employers may be conflicted

Denials of workers’ compensation benefits are often rooted in financial interests. As states have passed new laws to help cancer-stricken firefighters gain access to workers’ compensation, towns and cities have often lobbied against the efforts. Why? Many of these towns and cities are self-insured. They manage their own accounts and have financial reasons to challenge the validity of big cancer claims, even while they have human and legal reasons to help their employees.

Things are heating up

Firefighters across the United States face many of the same problems with workers’ compensation as those in Virginia. State lawmakers continue to adjust their laws to expand the list of cancers presumed to be job-related, but these changes are unlikely to move fast enough to help the firefighters who have already been diagnosed and had their claims denied. Those firefighters will likely need lawyers dedicated to helping them win the compensation they deserve.