Fight for Victims’ Families Continues

Kirsten Gillibrand and other advocates keep leading charge to ensure compensation for loved ones of fallen first responders and officers

First responders and public safety officers are among our greatest heroes, often sacrificing their lives in the line of duty and leaving behind heartbroken loved ones. That’s why the Public Service Officers’ Benefits (PSOB)—which ensures families receive compensation for the loss of these brave men and women, including monetary and educational benefits—was established 40 years ago. Yet in recent years, PSOB has been plagued by inefficiency, causing lawmakers including Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and New York’s own Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to call for some much-needed improvements.

Currently, claimants can often wait years for benefits, often without any explanation. Some unresolved claims date as far back as the tragedies of 9/11, while others are entering their third or fourth cycles of mysterious delay. According to Grassley, this is because there’s no current requirement for the program to update claimants on the status of their applications, leaving a lack of transparency and subsequent shortage of accountability.

Thus, newly proposed, bipartisan legislation entitled the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act, would require a weekly update of the program’s website allowing families to check up on the progress of their applications, including an explanation for any delays. PSOB would also be required to release a twice-yearly statistical report that summarizes the number of claims submitted and how long each took to be processed, in addition to seeing that children of fallen officers will receive their education benefits even if they have aged out.

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Fortunately, Gillibrand—who was raised upstate and served the region in Congress before assuming her Senatorial seat—has led the charge in rallying widespread support for the bill, including that of The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO). “It is a program that we wholeheartedly support and have from the beginning,” says NAPO Director of Governmental Affairs Andy Edmiston. “We just want to improve it so that our members who put their lives on the line every day and their families are able to get the benefits that they deserve and need.”

Echoing Gillibrand and others’ concerns about seeking swift and cooperating attention for pending recipients, Edmiston adds, “This new bill will return the PSOB to a structure of presumptive benefit and give substantial weight to the findings of local agencies as to whether or not the officer did die in the line of duty, which is huge. The public reports and reports to Congress will hold the office accountable, which also helps the families, since a lot of them are in dire financial straights.”

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