The Senate Judiciary Committee (Thursday) approved bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to fix deficiencies in a federal benefit program that are preventing first responders with certain injuries from receiving benefits intended by Congress. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act was reported (Thursday) by voice vote without opposition.
“Public safety officers whose lives have been permanently altered by a catastrophic injury in the line of duty deserve our support. Unfortunately, the federal program created to provide assistance has fallen short of efficiently responding to claims for benefits. I’m grateful for my colleagues’ support for this important bill as we prepare to recognize America’s law enforcement officers for National Police Week,” Grassley said.
Congress established the Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) program in 1976 to provide death benefits to survivors of officers who die in the line of duty. Over the years, the law has been amended to provide disability and education benefits, and to expand the pool of officers who are eligible for these benefits. However, the program has been undermined by delayed adjudication of death and disability claims. In some cases, claims have taken years to process. A lack of DOJ guidelines for adjudicating disability claims has also resulted in PSOB benefits being denied to officers whose work-related injuries would result in a disability determination under other federal disability programs.
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act (S. 1208) updates the PSOB program’s definition of disability to ensure that officers who are permanently unable to secure meaningful gainful employment following a catastrophic injury in the line of duty remain eligible for benefits. Applicants who have been denied benefits in the past would be able to re-apply using the updated definition. To address delays in processing claims, the bill expands DOJ’s subpoena authority to more efficiently secure records needed to evaluate claims.
Under the current program, disability or death benefits are provided in the form of a one-time lump sum payment, which is adjusted yearly based on the consumer price index. Benefits may also be issued to a surviving spouse or children in the form of monthly education assistance. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act requires the benefit award amount to be based on the date of the adjudication rather than the date of the injury to account for increases in the cost of living that may occur during lengthy adjudication periods. The bill also guarantees retroactive education assistance for eligible survivors who pay out-of-pocket education expenses while awaiting the adjudication of a claim.
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act is supported by:
- Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association
- Fraternal Order of Police
- National Association of Police Organizations
- Peace Officers Research Association of California
- Sergeants Benevolent Association of NYPD
- Wounded Blue.
- Billings, Mont., Police Department
- National Volunteer Fire Council
- National Association of School Resource Officers
- Violently Injured Police Officers Organization
Text of the legislation is available HERE.
Grassley recently raised concern with DOJ that a lack of formal guidelines for adjudicators could be leading to inconsistent findings when processing disability claims
In 2017, Grassley and Gillibrand partnered to address long waits for adjudication of PSOB death benefits through improved transparency. Their bill is now law.