Final “Hometown Heroes” rule for Public Safety Officers’ Benefits set

The Office of Management and Budget has published in the Federal Register the final rule updating how the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program will be
administered. PSOB is a one-time payment, currently set at $283,385, to the families of public safety officers who die or become permanently disabled from an injury
suffered in the line of duty.

When the rule goes into effect on September 11, 2006 it will be the culmination of a process that began in December of 2003 when the Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act passed into law. The Hometown Heroes Act states that a public safety officer who has a heart attack or stroke within 24 hours of engaging in nonroutine stressful or strenuous physical activity while on the job shall be presumed to have suffered an
injury in the line of duty.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which administers the PSOB program, has already begun the final review stage of the nearly 200 “Hometown Heroes” applications that have been pending in some cases for more than two years. Because some of the applications have been on hold for so long, BJA plans to expedite processing them in order to get determinations back to applicants as soon as
possible.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a draft rule for public comment in July 2005, incorporating the Hometown Heroes language as well as updating various other aspects of how the PSOB program is administered. The NVFC joined other fire service
organizations last September to comment on several aspects of the draft rule.

The NVFC expressed concern that the definition of a firefighter in the draft rule was too limited in scope. The definition of what constitutes “firefighting” in the final rule is significantly broader.

Under the final rule, the family of a public safety officer would not qualify for the benefit if there is medical evidence that the heart attack or stroke was brought
about due to poor health rather than the activities that the individual was engaged in. The draft rule would have created a system of health benchmarks that the NVFC felt were potentially very restrictive. Under the final rule, medical evidence will still be taken into consideration but determinations will be made on an individual basis.

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