PSOB/PSOEA Fact Sheets
IAFF Department of Occupational Health and Safety Summary of the Federal (U.S.) Benefits for Public Safety Officers PSOB and PSOEA Programs
I. Summary of the PSOB Law
The Public Safety Officers Benefits Act, (42 USC 3796, Public Law 94-430) became law on September 29, 1976. The legislation provided for a $50,000 death benefit for fire fighters (paid and volunteer) and law enforcement officers that died in the line-of-duty (emergency or non-emergency) from a traumatic injury. On December 15, 2003 the Act was amended to cover deaths from heart attack and stroke occurring in the line-of-duty. The Act does not cover deaths resulting from occupational illness or pulmonary disease unless a traumatic injury is a substantial factor to the death.
On November 11, 1988, the benefit was increased from $50,000.00 to $100,000.00 and made retroactive to June 1, 1988. The dependency test for parent(s) was eliminated. Additionally, it provided that on October 1, 1988 and every year thereafter, the benefit would be increased to reflect any increase in the consumer price index. On October 26, 2001, as part of the Patriot Act of 2001, the benefit was increased to $250,000 and made retroactive to January 1, 2001. The following summarizes the benefit payout since the enactment of the Act:
The Act did exclude federal fire fighters; however on October 12, 1984 the Act was amended to correct this exclusion. Likewise, on October 15, 1986 public sector EMS personnel were also amended into the coverage of the Act. On June 25, 2002 the Act was amended by the enactment of the Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Safety Officers Benefit Act, which now allows coverage of fire chaplains under the Act and authorizes all beneficiaries of fallen fire fighters, not just parents, spouses or children to receive the federal compensation. The legislation, named after the FDNY Chaplain Father Judge, was proposed after it was discovered that ten public safety officers who gave their lives on Sept. 11 would not be eligible for death benefits because they did not have any surviving immediate family. The beneficiary hierarchy resulting from this Amendment is as follows:
On August 10, 2006 new regulations for administration of all PSOB benefits were issued that incorporated all prior amendments to the original regulations and added the provisions of the Hometown Heroes Act (see below). These new regulations address the PSOB Act and regulations in five parts. The first part of this document describes the structure and background of the PSOB Program and aspects of the history of its administration. The second part covers the changes to the PSOB Act contained in Public Law 109–162, which provided a number of clarifying and conforming changes to the PSOB Act. New definitions included the term ‘‘member of a rescue squad or ambulance crew’’, which is now defined as ‘‘an officially recognized or designated public employee member of a rescue squad or ambulance crew.’’ It also amended the PSOB Act to ensure that the pre-existing statutory limitation on payments to non-civilians referred to the individual who was injured or killed, and not to any potential beneficiaries. Finally, this legislation amended certain provisions of the PSOB Act regarding designation of beneficiaries when the officer dies without a spouse or eligible children and removed the need for a one-year waiting period to ensure payment to the beneficiary of the officer’s ‘‘most recently executed life insurance policy.’’ The third part addresses the comments received by BJA that relate to the proposed provisions implementing the Hometown Heroes Act, and explains the changes being made in the final rule. The fourth part is a specific discussion of the terms ‘‘line of duty’’ and ‘‘authorized commuting.” The last part addresses the remainder of the comments in a section-by-section analysis, indicating where changes to provisions were made, or where BJA determined no changes were necessary.
The most current regulations for the administration of PSOB benefits were issued on January 16, 2009. The changes reflected current program practices, addressed substantive and procedural shortcomings in the rule that implemented the Hometown Heroes and Survivors Benefit Act, incorporated two policy memoranda related to non-routine stressful or strenuous physical activity and competent medical evidence to the contrary, and made other housekeeping changes. New or revised definitions were incorporated for authorized commuting, biological (as pertains to children), heart attack, injury, line of duty activity, voluntary intoxication at the time of death or catastrophic injury, and other terms. The new regulations also made changes to evidentiary rules related to the submission of claims.
II. Summary of the Heart/Stroke Amendment
The Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act of 2003 (HHA) amends the PSOB Act and was signed into Law on December 15, 2003. If a public safety officer dies as a direct and proximate result of a heart attack or stroke, that officer shall be presumed to have died as the direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty unless such presumption is not overcome by competent medical evidence to the contrary.
The law requires that the officer, while on duty engaged in a situation, and such engagement involved non-routine stressful or strenuous physical law enforcement, fire suppression, rescue, hazardous material response, emergency medical services, prison security, disaster relief, or other emergency response activity or participated in a training exercise, and such participation involved non-routine stressful or strenuous physical activity. Any claim for non-routine stressful or strenuous physical activities will be excluded if such actions are of a clerical, administrative, or non-manual nature.
Further, the law requires that the officer died as a result of a heart attack or stroke suffered:
The HHA provision only covers deaths occurring on or after December 15, 2003. The HHA is not retroactive, and therefore it does not apply to deaths occurring before the aforementioned date.
III. Summary of the Disability Amendment
On November 29, 1990, Congress again amended the PSOB benefits program to include permanent and total disability. The amendment was tightly drawn, sharply limited in scope, and intended to cover only those public safety officers permanently unable to perform any gainful employment.
The PSOB disability amendment recognizes that state, local and agency benefit programs are primarily responsible for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of public safety officer disability pensions awarded each year. The PSOB Act is clear that benefits awarded are supplementary in nature and by law are not to offset any worker compensation payment or disability pension benefit.
Even where an officer is disabled by a severe, catastrophic injury received in the line of duty, PSOB benefits do not come into play unless the injuries are so disabling as to permanently prevent any gainful employment. This standard recognizes that in all but rare cases a disabled public safety officer will have the capacity to supplement a state or local disability pension with employment earnings of varying degrees.
It is clear that Congress intended the PSOB disability for the rare occasion where a public safety officer miraculously survives line of duty injuries that, except for modern medical technology, would have resulted in death. Such a survivor, however, is so severely handicapped with permanent disabilities that any type of gainful employment is simply not possible. The following example illustrates the kind of line of duty injuries and permanent disability that will merit a PSOB finding of permanent and total disability and award of the program's disability benefit.
A fire fighter, in a scheduled training exercise, was rappelling from a training tower. The supporting anchor point failed, plunging the fire fighter almost 40 feet to the pavement. He sustained extensive blunt force trauma, with severe head injuries and residual mental impairment. Subsequently, attending physicians diagnosed the fire fighter as permanently paraplegic and permanently unable to perform any gainful employment. The PSOB Program's medical experts confirmed the medical findings, especially noting craniocerebral head injuries with residual mental impairments, the existence of permanent spinal cord damage and resultant permanent motor and sensory functional loss of lower limbs, bladder and bowel control. These medical reviews also affirmed that the fire fighter would remain a paraplegic, permanently and totally disabled. Moreover, the PSOB Program's medical reviews and findings confirmed that this public safety officer would be permanently prevented from performing any gainful work.
IV. Summary of the PSOEA Law
The Police, Fire and Emergency Officers Educational Assistance Act was signed into law in October 1998. The law was created to provide financial assistance for higher education to the dependants of federal, state, and local public safety officers who are killed or permanently and totally disabled as a result of traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty and were eligible for the U.S. PSOB death or disability benefit. This is the only federally funded program that provides educational benefits for the spouse and children of fire fighters killed in the line of duty.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance - Office of Special Programs, the same office that administers the Public Safety Officer Benefit (PSOB) Program, administers the Public Safety Officers Educational Assistance (PSOEA) Program.
This assistance is only available after the PSOB death or disability claim process has been completed and benefits have been awarded. Further, the PSOEA applicant must have received at least a portion of the PSOB benefits and be defined as the officer’s spouse or child under the PSOB Act and regulations. In January 2000, the law further extended the retroactive eligibility date for financial assistance. Accordingly, the law is retroactive and will apply to the spouses or children of public safety officers whose deaths or permanent and total disabilities are covered by the PSOB Program on or after January 1, 1978. Public safety officers’ children will no longer be eligible after their 27th birthday, absent a finding by the Attorney General of extraordinary circumstances. The PSOEA Program will provide an educational assistance allowance, which may be used solely to defray educational expenses, including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, and education-related fees/costs.
The amount of the PSOB educational assistance benefit for one month of full-time attendance on or after October 1, 2015 is $1,021.00. All PSOEA awards must, by law, be reduced by the amount of other governmental assistance that a student is eligible to receive.
V. Summary of Legislation
VI. PSOB Government Contact and Information
United States Department of Justice
Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program Bureau of Justice Assistance
810 Seventh Street, NW
Washington, DC 20531
Tel: 202-307-0635; Toll free: 888-744-6513; Fax: 202-514-5956
USDOJ, Bureau of Justice Assistance Fact Sheet, which provides the summary of PSOB and PSOEA benefits, can be found at the following website address: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/grant/psob/psob_main.html. This site also provides all the notification and filing forms needed to process a claim.
The IAFF Division of Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine will provide our affiliates and the member’s family with assistance in filing for PSOB and PSOEA benefits. The Division notifies the IAFF PSOB Coordinator of the line-of-duty death. When necessary, and upon the request of the District Vice President, the General President assigns the PSOB Coordinator to assist the local union with the PSOB claim. The PSOB Coordinator coordinates with the District Vice President and the Division of Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine in working with the local union and the family to assure timely filing of the PSOB claim. Upon completion of the PSOB case and award of claim, the PSOB Coordinator forwards the claim file to IAFF Division of Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine office for storage and future use.