SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – The widow of veteran a Seminole County firefighter said the county he served for 13 years denied him cancer benefits because he was diagnosed before Florida’s first responder cancer benefits legislation became law.
Courtney Schieber said her husband, 41-year-old Dustin Schieber, died Feb. 2 after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016 and, again in 2018.
“He wanted me to talk about this because at least then what he’s gone through isn’t in vain,” she said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida Statute 112.1816 into law July 1, 2019, however, while the law supports firefighters and first responders diagnosed with cancer it does not provide retroactive coverage.
Courtney Schieber says she now faces mountains of debt with no help from the community her husband served as an EMT for more than a decade.
“It just feels like we’re kind of on our own,” she said. “It’s been like a nightmare, like something you don’t think you’re ever going to have to deal with.”
Under the Florida law, first responders diagnosed with one of 21 occupational cancers, including colon cancer, are eligible for life insurance, up to $25,000 and reimbursement for medical bills.
In a letter sent last month to Schieber‘s attorney, Seminole County risk manager Geoff Bichler wrote in part: “As firefighter Schieber’s cancer predates the new law by almost three years, he is ineligible for benefits.”
Bichler said his firm is currently handling roughly 40 cases involving first responders denied cancer benefits from various county and municipal agencies for similar reasons.
Courtney Schieber said her husband had no family history of cancer.
“There is really nothing to suggest this is anything other than occupationally based cancer,” Bichler said. “Yet we keep getting push back.”
Bichler argued city governments are refusing to accept a recent court ruling in St. Petersburg that granted veteran city firefighter Lt. Jason Francis full benefits despite being diagnosed January 2019, 7 months before it was signed into law.
Judge Thomas Ramsberger ruled the law is ambiguous.
“This Court finds that the Statute does not restrict benefits based upon a diagnosis of cancer that occurred prior to the effective date thereof," according to the judge’s decision.
The city’s mayor directed the staff to provide the benefits “as outlined in the court’s ruling.”
There was no appeal.
“I think that’s what should happen in Seminole county,” Bichler said. “ You can always deny on some technical basis but the right thing to do is take care of the family.
Schieber leaves behind a wife and three children.
The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help cover expenses. If you would like to donate, click here.
A memorial service for Schieber will be held in Sanford on Feb. 13 at 11 a.m.