Kansas law named after Lenexa firefighter expands benefits to families of fallen first responders

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LENEXA, Kan. — A new Kansas bill recently signed into law by Governor Laura Kelly expands benefits to the families of firefighters and police officers who die due to a service-connected condition.

For the family of Mike Wells of the Lenexa Fire Department, his death from cancer is now considered a line-of-duty death, making them eligible for greater benefits.

Sitting down with FOX4 Tuesday, Mike Wells’ wife, Katie, brought a photo of the couple and their three kids.

“We had just learned that in a matter of days that he went from what the doctors thought were stomach issues to stage four esophageal cancer,” Katie Wells said. “And the doctors had just told us that they could maybe get him to a year. So, that was awful.”

After a courageous fight, Mike Wells passed away in September of 2019, two days after his 39th birthday.

“He’s the father of my children.  It’s a huge void. We miss him every day,” Katie Wells said. “It’s devastating, still is devastating, we’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

But, at the time, Mike Wells’ death wasn’t considered in the line of duty, meaning his family wasn’t eligible for the same benefits, creating a financial burden.

Last year, a bill aimed at changing this stalled due to COVID-19.

But, the second time around, Katie Wells and others testified before Kansas lawmakers for what would become known as the ‘Michael Wells Memorial Bill.’

Kansas Senator Cindy Holscher (D- Overland Park) serves on the Joint Committee on Pensions, Investments and Benefits, which sponsored it.

“Previously, it’s been half as far as the coverage, but yes, this puts it pretty much on scale with an individual who would pass in the line of duty,” Holscher said. “It is so important to these families who had an individual who was serving their communities, and unfortunately something happened, and as a result of their service became ill. So, it’s so important that we do the right thing here and help take care of them.”

According to the new law, families of police officers and firefighters with children will be paid a monthly benefit of 50% of their salary at the time of their disability, plus 10% for each child. The benefit cannot exceed 75% of their final salary.

This change applies to any member deaths since January 1, 2017, and going forward.

Katie Wells said this new law, named after her husband, carries his legacy.

“I want him to know that we love him, and that his fight mattered,” Katie Wells said. “And that through this bill, we’re going to continue to help other people, just like he did.”

According to a recent study, cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters.

Lenexa FD Chief Travis Vaughn sent FOX4 this statement on the law: “We are very appreciative of those who advocated and supported the passage of this important legislation. The Michael Wells Memorial Bill will provide improved financial support for Katie, Olivia, Johnny, and Caroline, along with any other family experiencing the death of a disabled first responder.”

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