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:
September 29, 1976 $50,000.00
June 1, 1988 $100,000.00
October 1, 1988 $103,890.00
October 1, 1989 $109,460.00
October 1, 1990 $114,235.00
October 1, 1991 $119,894.00
October 1, 1992 $123,520.00
October 1, 1993 $127,499.00
October 1, 1994 $130,416.00
October 1, 1995 $134,571.00
October 1, 1996 $138,461.00
October 1, 1997 $141,556.00
October 1, 1998 $143,943.00
October 1, 1999 $146,949.00
October 1, 2000 $151,635.00
October 1, 2001 $154,199.00
October 26, 2001 $250,000.00 (retroactive to 1/1/01)*
October 1, 2002 $262,100.00
October 1, 2003 $267,494.00
October 1, 2004 $275,658.00
October 1, 2005, $283,385.00
October 1, 2006, $295,194.00
October 1, 2007, $303,064.00
October 1, 2008, $315,746.00
October 1, 2009, $311,810.00
October 1, 2010, $318,111.64
October 1, 2011, $323,035.75
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:
If the public safety officer (PSO) is survived by a spouse but no eligible children (as defined above), the spouse will receive 100% of the program benefit.
If the PSO is survived by a spouse and eligible children, the spouse will receive 50% of the program benefit and the children will receive equal shares of the remaining 50%.
If the PSO is survived by eligible children but no spouse, the children will receive equal shares of 100% of the program benefit.
If the PSO is survived by neither a spouse nor eligible children the program benefit shall be paid to "the individual designated by such officer under such officer's most recently executed life insurance policy, provided that such individual survived such officer."
If the PSO is survived by neither a spouse not eligible children and dies not have a life insurance policy, then the benefit will be made payable to the surviving parents in equal shares.
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:
while engaging or participating in such activity as described above,
while still on that duty after so engaging or participating in such an activity, or
not later than 24 hours after so engaging or participating in such an activity.
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 Spokane, Washington fire medic, 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.
As of October 1, 2004 the maximum award for a full-time student is $803.00 per month of class attendance. All PSOEA awards must, by law, be reduced by the amount of other governmental assistance that a student is eligible to receive.
There are two additional provisions of the law that the Bureau of Justice Assistance - Office of Special Programs must clarify before administering the benefit. The law requires the Attorney General to issue regulations regarding the use of a sliding scale to be used to ensure that the most financially needy dependants receive funding priority. Furthermore, the law calls for the “offset” of the educational benefit by any other federal, state, or local government funds provided as an educational benefit. For example, if the student receives $2,000 from the local government for education, then this amount would be deducted from the amount that the child would be eligible to receive from the Federal government. The Bureau of Justice Assistance will establish the administrative policies in the upcoming months.
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.
V. Summary of Legislation
Public Safety Officers' Benefits Act of 1976, Part J. Original act detailing the provision of death benefits. Introduced to the 94th Congress, September 29, 1976.
Federal Register, May 6, 1977, Part II. The rules adopted by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration for implementation of the PSOB Act are written.
Federal Register, Vol. 43, No. 180 - September 15, 1978. Results of meeting detailing the contribution of carbon monoxide and heart disease in the deaths of public safety officers.
Federal Register, Vol. 45, No. 51 - March 13, 1980. Amendments to the hearing and appeal provisions of the regulations.
Federal Register, Vol. 50, No. 128, July 3, 1985. An amendment to the PSOB Act which transfers the administration of the Act from the LEAA to the Bureau of Justice Assistance. In addition, federal public safety officers are now covered under the act and "gross negligence" and "intoxication" standards are defined within this amendment.
Federal Register, Vol. 53, No. 50, March 15, 1988. Amendment to the PSOB Act which includes provision of death benefit coverage to members of public rescue squads or ambulance crews. Also an explanation of EMS coverage in correspondence from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 113, June 11, 1992. Amendment to the PSOB Act to include coverage for disability benefits. Such disability is defined as permanent and total as a direct result of a catastrophic personal injury sustained in the line of duty which will prevent an individual from performing any gainful work.
Public Law 107-37 - September 18, 2001, [115 STAT. 219]. Amendment to the PSOB Act to provide for the expedited payment of PSOB benefits for a public safety officer who was killed or suffered a catastrophic injury producing permanent and total disability as a direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty in connection with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Public Law 107-56 - October 26, 2001, [115 STAT. 369]. Amendment to the PSOB Act to provide for the expedited payment of PSOB benefits for a public safety officer who was killed or suffered a catastrophic injury producing permanent and total disability as a direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty in connection with prevention, investigation, rescue, or recovery efforts related to any terrorist attack. Increases the PSOB program benefit payment to $250,000 retroactive to January 1, 2001.
Public Law 107-196 - June 24, 2002, [116 STAT. 719]. Amendment to the PSOB Act to include coverage of fire chaplains and allows all beneficiaries of fallen fire fighters, not just parents, spouses or children to receive the federal compensation.
Public Law No: 108-182 December 15, 2003 [117 Stat. 2649]. Amendment to the PSOB Act to ensure that a public safety officer who suffers a fatal heart attack or stroke while on duty shall be presumed to have died in the line of duty for purposes of public safety officer survivor benefits.
VI. PSOB Government Contact and Information
United States Department of Justice
Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program Bureau of Justice Assistance