The Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Program provides a one-time financial benefit to the eligible survivors of public safety officers whose deaths are the direct and proximate result of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty.
Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program: History
Congress was concerned that the hazards inherent in law enforcement and fire suppression and the low level of state and local death benefits might discourage qualified individuals from seeking careers in public safety, thus hindering the ability of communities to provide for public safety. This led to the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Act (42 U.S.C. 3796, et seq.) being enacted in 1976. The act was designed to offer peace of mind to men and women seeking careers in public safety and to make a strong statement about the value that American society places on the contributions of those who serve their communities in potentially dangerous circumstances.
The PSOB Program, a result of that act, is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and operates under the premise that it is essential that all public safety agencies be prepared to effectively help the family, fellow officers, and the community move forward in the aftermath of a tragedy. This is a unique opportunity for local, state, and federal public safety agencies and organizations to become involved in promoting the protection of public safety officers before tragedies occur.
State and local law enforcement officers and firefighters are covered for line-of-duty deaths occurring on or after September 29, 1976. Federal law enforcement officers and firefighters are covered for line-of-duty deaths occurring on or after October 12, 1984. Federal, state, and local public rescue squads and ambulance crews are covered for line-of-duty deaths occurring on or after October 15, 1986. As of October 30, 2000, employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state, local, and tribal emergency management and civil defense agency employees working in cooperation with FEMA are considered to be public safety officers under the PSOB Program, provided they were performing official, hazardous duties related to a declared major disaster or emergency. Retroactive to September 11, 2001, chaplains also are included in the definition of a public safety officer.
On November 29, 1990, the act was amended to include public safety officers who became permanently and totally disabled as a result of a catastrophic injury. Public safety officers (federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, firefighters, and members of public rescue squads and ambulance crews) are covered for catastrophic personal injuries sustained on or after November 29, 1990. To initiate a claim for PSOB disability benefits, the officer must be separated from his or her employing agency for medical reasons and must be receiving the maximum allowable disability compensation from his or her jurisdiction. Eligible officers may include those who are comatose, in a persistent vegetative state, or quadriplegic.
The Federal Law Enforcement Dependents Assistance (FLEDA) Act (Public Law 104-238 was enacted in October 1996 to provide financial assistance for higher education to spouses and children of federal law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Congress and the President recognized that for many families, access to higher education was instrumental in their ability to move forward in the aftermath of a line-of-duty tragedy. The act was amended in 1998 (Public Law 105-390 to also provide educational assistance for spouses and children of state and local police, fire, and emergency public safety officers killed in the line of duty, creating the Public Safety Officers' Educational Assistance (PSOEA) Program. This program also makes assistance available to spouses and children of public safety officers who have been permanently and totally disabled by catastrophic injuries sustained in the line of duty. The act was amended in October 2000 to extend the retroactive eligibility dates for financial assistance for higher education for spouses and dependent children of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty on or after January 1, 1978.
Educational assistance through the PSOEA Program is only available to the spouse or children of a public safety officer after the PSOB death or disability claim process has been completed and benefits have been awarded. PSOB specialists work with each PSOEA applicant to confirm that the parent's or spouse's disability or death claim had previously been approved by the PSOB Office and that, in cases regarding an officer's death, the applicant had received, or was eligible to receive, at least a portion of the PSOB benefits.
The spouse of a public safety officer is eligible to receive PSOEA funds for educational expenses at any time during his or her lifetime. However, a child of the deceased or disabled officer is only eligible to receive PSOEA funds for educational expenses that occur prior to his or her 27th birthday. Also, no spouse or child is eligible to receive PSOEA funds for a period greater than 45 months of full-time education or a proportionate period of a part-time program.
Information taken from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Dept of Justice. For more information visit their site at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/grant/psob/psob_main.html