Washington, DC– U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), along with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) have introduced legislation to strengthen and improve a federal program that provides an important safety net for first responders who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act was first enacted in 1976, and provides benefits for certain survivors of public safety officers who die or are disabled as a direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty. The law, however, excludes certain classes of safety officers and trainees. The legislation will fill these gaps and further strengthen the important program, in addition to making some needed improvements to the administration of the program.
“First responders make sacrifices every day to keep our communities safe, as do their families,” said Cardin, former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Homeland Security Subcommittee. “No one should have to go through the ordeal that beset the family of firefighter-cadet Rachael Wilson after her tragic death during an ill-conceived training exercise. Fortunately, Attorney General Eric Holder ultimately granted benefits to the Wilson family when they were left with no legal recourse, but this bill would provide an important remedy for other families of public-safety candidate officers who are severely injured or killed in the line of duty.”
“It is difficult to imagine what communities across America would be like without these first responders,” said Leahy. “From the firefighters in Vermont who race to the scene of a rural fire during a cold winter night, to the ambulance crews providing emergency medical services following a natural disaster in Oklahoma, our dedicated first responders are all connected by their sense of duty and their selflessness in the service of their neighbors. In Congress, lawmakers have traditionally acted in support of these men and women irrespective of party and we should continue that great tradition. I hope the Senate will act quickly to pass this important bill.”
“First responders are our true American heroes – protecting our homes, our businesses and our communities. They risk their lives to keep us safe, and we are thankful for their service,” Mikulski said. “Our protectors deserve to know that their families will be cared for if the unthinkable happens while protecting us. I will continue to fight to protect our protectors by keeping them a priority in the federal checkbook – for them, for their families and for the safety of our communities.”
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act Improvement Act includes a provision to extend the federal PSOB program to paramedics and emergency medical technicians who work or volunteer for nonprofit ambulance services, and their families, when they are disabled or killed in the line of duty. The legislation also includes a provision to ensure that a cadet officer killed during a dangerous training exercise would be eligible for benefits under the PSOB program. The bill will lessen the length of a currently unwieldy appeals process for claimants, clarify the list of eligible survivor beneficiaries, and make those who have been catastrophically injured eligible for peer support and counseling programs, and will remove artificial distinctions under the Hometown Heroes Act to expand the types of injuries that would make a public safety officer’s survivors eligible for benefits.
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