Dear Mr. Chairman and Representative Jordan,
I am writing on behalf of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police to respectfully
request that the House Committee on the Judiciary consider and favorably report H.R.
6943, the “Public Safety Officer Support Act.” The bill would expand the eligibility of
certain officers or their surviving family members for death and disability benefits as
provided for by the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program.
As a profession, we do a very good job of protecting our officers’ physical safety by
providing them with tools like anti-ballistic body armor. Until recently, many have not
recognized the tremendous mental stress our officers endure as a consequence of their
service and the negative impact the job has on their physical, emotional, and mental
health. Law enforcement and other public safety officers face a 25.6 times higher risk of
developing acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other
mental health conditions than those in other professions, and some statistics suggest
that a law enforcement officer will experience more traumatic events in six months than
the average person will experience in a lifetime.
In recent years, our profession has improved by expanding the kinds of services and
support available to officers who are struggling with mental wellness, and, perhaps
more importantly, we have begun to erase the stigma associated with those who do
seek or receive help with their mental health. Even with this progress, we estimate that
147 officers still took their own lives in 2021.
Recently, Congress, and this Committee in particular, has worked successfully with the
FOP in designing and funding peer support counseling at the Federal level as well as
resources for local and State agencies to develop mental health and wellness services
and to establish programs to track and prevent suicides. In just the last four years,
Congress passed the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act in 2018, the
Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis (STOIC) Act in 2019, the Law Enforcement
Suicide Data Collection Act in 2020, and the Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer
Support (COPS) Counseling Act just this past November. These laws recognize that the
men and women who serve in law enforcement are subjected to incredible stresses
which can lead to acute stress disorder, PTSD, and suicide. These mental health issues
are, in virtually every case, connected to their service as law enforcement officers. The
U.S. Armed Forces recognize the vast majority of suicides as line-of-duty deaths
because they understand the “invisible injuries” to the mind and spirit that are inflicted
as a result of their service. It is time that the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB)
program extends similar recognition to law enforcement and other public safety officers.
This legislation acknowledges the connection between suicide and service-connected
mental health issues and amends the PSOB program by providing death and disability
benefits to officers who attempt to take or do take their own life.
The bill provides that an officer who is diagnosed with acute stress disorder, PTSD, or
another similar mental health condition who commits or attempts to commit suicide is
presumed to “constitute personal injury” as defined in the PSOB statute. This would
allow the officer, or his surviving family, to claim the death or disability benefit
administered by the PSOB program.
It also establishes a similar presumption that any officer “who has contacted or
attempted to contact the employee assistance program of the agency or entity that the
officer serves, a licensed medical or mental health professional, suicide prevention
services, or another mental health assistance service in order to receive help,
treatment, or diagnosis” is also eligible to make a PSOB death or disability claim.
Finally, the legislation recognizes the cumulative and corrosive effects of the mental
stress suffered by law enforcement and other public safety officers. Just as an officer
who dies from a gunshot wound years after being shot, some officers reach a point
where they are overcome and consider suicide. To address this, the bill creates the
same presumption for any public safety officer who responds or responded to a mass
casualty, mass death, or mass shooting event. Responses to incidents like Sandy Hook,
the Pulse nightclub, and the Las Vegas shooting may not have an immediate impact on
many officers whose training and mental resiliency allow them to respond to the crisis
and, in many cases, cope with their trauma and continue to serve. But some officers—
too many—are unable to cope. They may struggle in silence and not seek the help they
need or develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse which accelerate
their downward emotional spiral until they reach that dark place and see suicide as a
solution to their pain. We need to do everything we can to help these officers—indeed,
we have a responsibility to do so. However, on those occasions in which we fail them,
we absolutely cannot fail the families they leave behind or fail to help the officer who
survives the attempt. They should be eligible to file a claim with the PSOB program, and
the bill would do this.
At long last, we have reached a point in grappling with police suicides, as well as those
in other public safety professions, to address what we have known for many years—that
long-term exposure to mental stress and traumatic events over the course of service
can inflict “invisible injuries” on the men and women in law enforcement, injuries that
may be left untreated and have a fatal outcome. The fact is that acute stress disorder or
PTSD is just as disabling as a physical injury and an officer who suffers from this or a
similar disorder that may result in suicide is just as service-connected as any other line-of-duty death.
We believe this legislation shows compassion and support for our officers
and their families.
On behalf of the more than 364,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, I ask that
the Committee take up and pass this important legislation. If I can be of any additional
assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or Executive Director Jim Pasco in our
Washington, D.C. office.