Recently, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers introduced Protecting America's First Responders Act, legislation to better ensure that law enforcement and first responders who are disabled in the line of duty have prompt access to the benefits they've been promised.
"Our brave law enforcement officers and first responders put their lives on the line every day to protect us and keep us safe,"
said Senator Tillis. "I am proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure our first responders receive access to their benefits if they are disabled in the line of duty. I will always work hard for our courageous men and women in uniform to make sure they, and their families, are taken care of."
Congress established the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program (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 marked by delayed adjudication of death and disability claims. In some cases, claims have taken years to process. A lack of Justice Dept. guidelines for adjudicating disability claims has also resulted inconsistent results.
The Protecting America's First Responders Act of 2021 (S.1511) 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.
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 Protecting America's First Responders Act is endorsed by:
- Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association
- Fraternal Order of Police
- International Association of Fire Chiefs
- National Association of Police Organizations
- National Association of School Resource Officers
- National Volunteer Fire Council
- Wounded Blue