Washington, DC - As Congress and the nation prepared to mark the anniversary of 9/11, U.S. Reps. Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Curt Weldon (R-PA), and Michael Oxley (R-OH) announced the introduction of a bill that would expand the Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) Program to ensure that the families of more fallen heroes are provided for.
"In North Carolina, we know that our hometown heroes, our firefighters, our police officers, our first responders, keep our families and our communities safe," Etheridge said at the September 5 press conference held on Capitol Hill. "This legislation is just one small step towards making sure that our first responders and their families are taken care of for the courageous and dangerous work they do every day. I am proud that we are introducing this legislation less than a week before the anniversary of 9/11 in honor and memory of all the firefighters, police officers and first responders who lost their lives."
The Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefit Act of 2002 (H.R. 5334) would extend the current PSOB Program to public safety officers who die as a result of a heart attack or stroke while on duty. Heart attacks and strokes represent a significant risk among public safety officers, accounting for nearly half of firefighter deaths each year.
"Over the years we have acted appropriately to increase the amount of the public safety officer benefit, now more than $259,000, and to expand the eligibility to include those permanently disabled on the job," said Rep. Hoyer. "However, we have also singled out a specific group of survivors for unfair treatment those who have lost a loved one as the result of a heart attack suffered on duty."
The Public Safety Officers Benefits Program currently provides financial assistance to families of public safety officers (fire, police and EMS) killed in the line of duty, as well as to officers permanently disabled while on the job. The death benefit is payable to the survivors of a public safety officer who "has died as the direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty."
Unfortunately, in almost every incidence of death by heart attack or stroke, it is ruled that the heart attack or stroke was not a direct result of an injury sustained in the line of duty and the family receives no benefits even though the deaths were clearly triggered by the rigors of the job. The Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefit Act would correct that deficiency in the law.
"There is nothing more important than ensuring the families of our firefighters that they will receive proper benefits should their loved ones fall while serving their communities," said NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. "We applaud Representatives Ethridge, Hoyer, Weldon, and Oxley for taking the lead on this issue and look forward to working with them to ensure passage of this legislation."
The following is a brief legislative summary of the Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefit Act of 2002.
The Public Safety Officers Benefit Under Current Law:
- Provides financial assistance to the survivors of public safety officers (including firefighters and police officers) killed in the line of duty, as well as to officers permanently disabled while on the job.
- Assists the survivors of a public safety officer who "has died as the direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty" with a one-time death benefit payment (currently about $259,000), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Makes it difficult for families of public safety officers who die of a heart attack or stroke to qualify for benefits. Surviving families must go to great lengths to overcome the burden of proof and prove that the heart attack or stroke was "direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty" to do so.
- The Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act of 2002.
- Allows the families of public safety officers who have died from a heart attack or stroke while on duty to receive the public safety officer benefit.
- Provides this benefit to firefighters who die within 24 hours of "participating in a training exercise or responding to an emergency situation."
- Presumes that a public safety officer who suffers a fatal heart attack or stroke, while on duty or within the 24-hour timeline, died as the direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty.
- Costs approximately $13 million per year.