In 1976, Congress established the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program to provide death benefits to survivors of officers who lose their lives in the line of duty. Over time, the law has been amended to provide education and disability benefits, and to expand the group of officers who are eligible for these benefits. Even though the Justice Department has a goal of processing survivor claims within one year of the time they are filed, a number of families must wait long periods of time for their applications to be approved.
Bill Goes to House of Representatives
The U.S. Senate passed legislation unanimously to reduce the backlog of families that are waiting for approval of survivor benefits of public safety officers killed in the line of duty. Now, the bill goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
At the end of March 2017, there were 756 active claims before the PSOB Office. These claims have been pending for 753 days. Between October 2016 and March 2017, the PSOB Office determined 179 claims, however, received 192 claims, resulting in a net increase in the number of pending claims.
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act expands public oversight of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program to address the backlog, by permanently raising the level of transparency regarding wait times for benefits applications.
Parker Waichman is a national law firm that has spent many years fighting to ensure that the heroes and survivors of first responders are never forgotten. The firm is committed to helping anyone seeking legal information concerning a potential lawsuit and offers free, no-obligation case evaluations.
Specifics of the Bill
The bill requires the Justice Department to post on its website, weekly status updates for all pending claims and twice yearly collective number of statistics regarding these claims. The bill must also allow the Justice Department to rely on other federal regulatory standards.
In addition, the bill requires the Justice Department to show clear and convincing evidence that an officer was negligent or engaged in misconduct at the time of his or her death or injury before denying a claim on those grounds.
It must also allow for the Justice Department to give substantial weight to, and at times require it to adopt, findings of fact of state, local and other federal agencies.
The Justice Department, under the bill, must also utilize all of its investigative authorities before rejecting claims that are based on a lack of information, and establish remedies for claimants who are over the age, or “age out” of eligibility for education benefits due to the department’s own delays in processing their claims. The bill’s provisions would be applicable to all claims that are pending at the time of the bill’s enactment, plus all claims filed after that date.
“Senator Gillibrand said, “I’m very pleased the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act unanimously passed the Senate. When a first responder dies as a result of their work, we all have a responsibility to help take care of their surviving family members. This legislation would help ensure that the families of fallen first responders receive the compensation they deserve and need in a timely and transparent manner. Now that this bill has passed the Senate, I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to send it to the President’s desk to be signed into law a quickly as possible.”
Senator Grassley of Iowa said, “As a society, we’ve promised to support the loved ones of officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect us, so it’s unacceptable that these families are often forced to wait, in some cases for years, for the Justice Department to process their survivor benefits applications. A little transparency and public scrutiny can go a long way, and this bill shines a bright public light on the Justice Department’s survivor benefits backlog to get some answers for these families. My colleagues in the House of Representatives should pass this bill as soon as possible to bring needed help to the loved ones of our fallen officers.”
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act was introduced this year by Senators Gillibrand and Grassley, and is cosponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).
Legal Help and Advice
If you or someone you know is a survivor or a relative of a first responder, you may have valuable legal rights. The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can answer any legal question you may have. We urge you to contact us at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).