Dear Senators Grassley and Gillibrand,
I am writing on behalf of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police to advise you of our support for S. 1511, the “Protecting America’s First Responders Act.” This legislation, which, thanks to your outreach, reflects substantial input from the FOP and the wider public safety community, will significantly improve the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB) program for officers severely injured in the line of duty.
The PSOB program is currently burdened with unreasonable definitions of the terms “catastrophic injury” and “gainful work” that prevent officers who are disabled in the line of duty from receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. This, combined with the absence of any guidelines for the adjudication of disability claims, has resulted in the denial of PSOB benefits to officers whose service-connected injuries would be viewed as eligible by almost every other component of the Federal government. Under current law, officers capable of performing any commonly compensated activity are not considered permanently disabled, therefore making them ineligible to receive benefits.
Your legislation would define the term “disability” to ensure that officers, who can perform sedentary work that involves simple tasks with minimal duties or work performed for therapeutic purposes or with special accommodations, still receive the disability compensation benefits. We believe the changes proposed in your bill will greatly improve the ability of our injured and disabled officers to have their claims processed more fairly and more quickly.
In addition, the legislation requires the benefit award amount to be based on the date of the determination rather than the date of the injury or death to account for increases in the cost of living that may occur during lengthy adjudication periods. The bill also provides for education assistance for eligible survivors as well as ensures that those survivors who had no choice but to pay out-of-pocket for education expenses while awaiting the adjudication of a claim will be paid back.
Too often, and especially in cases involving a disabling injury, heart attack or stroke, the PSOB process can take several years—which is too long and too frustrating for these officers and their families. Your legislation addresses this by expanding the program’s subpoena authority to more efficiently secure records needed to evaluate claims.
While no law, benefit or government program can alleviate the grief of losing a loved one or heal a permanent injury that the officer must live with for the rest of his days, this legislation can reduce the financial pressures these families may encounter.
On behalf of the more than 356,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, I thank you both for your leadership on this issue and will do everything I can to assist you in moving this bill forward. If I can be of any help, please do not hesitate to contact me or Executive Director Jim Pasco in our Washington office.