WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate today unanimously passed legislation authored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to improve access to assistance for first responders permanently disabled in the line of duty. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act establishes guidelines for determining eligibility for federal benefit under the Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) program and provides the Justice Department with new tools to more uniformly and efficiently adjudicate benefit claims.
“This week is National Police Week, a time to honor America’s law enforcement officers for their sacrifices serving our communities. So it’s only fitting that the Senate unanimously passed our bipartisan bill to help those who have given so much to help us. This bill helps ensure public safety officers whose lives have been permanently altered by a catastrophic injury in the line of duty get the support they deserve. The House of Representatives should swiftly pass this bill and send it to President Trump,” Grassley said.
“Our first responders have a dangerous job and they take extraordinary risks to keep the rest of us safe. This bill would make sure that public safety officers who are injured or killed in the line of duty – including our sick 9/11 first responders – and the families of our fallen heroes are receiving the correct amount compensation from the PSOB program. I was proud to fight with Senator Grassley to pass this bill in the Senate, and I will continue to work to ensure that it can get signed into law,” Gillibrand said. 
Congress established the PSOB program in 1976 to provide death benefits to survivors of officers who die in the line of duty. Over the years, the law has been amended to provide disability and education benefits, and to expand the pool of officers who are eligible for these benefits. However, the program has been undermined by delayed adjudication of death and disability claims. In some cases, claims have taken years to process. A lack of DOJ guidelines for adjudicating disability claims has also resulted in PSOB benefits being denied to officers whose work-related injuries would result in a disability determination under other federal disability programs.
The Protecting America’s First Responders Act ( S. 1208) updates the PSOB program’s definition of disability to ensure that officers who are permanently unable to secure meaningful gainful employment following a catastrophic injury in the line of duty remain eligible for benefits. Applicants who have been denied benefits in the past would be able to re-apply using the updated definition. To address delays in processing claims, the bill expands DOJ’s subpoena authority to more efficiently secure records needed to evaluate claims.
Under the current program, disability or death benefits are provided in the form of a one-time lump sum payment, which is adjusted yearly based on the consumer price index. Benefits may also be issued to a surviving spouse or children in the form of monthly education assistance. The Protecting America’s First Responders Act requires the benefit award amount to be based on the date of the adjudication rather than the date of the injury to account for increases in the cost of living that may occur during lengthy adjudication periods. The bill also guarantees retroactive education assistance for eligible survivors who pay out-of-pocket education expenses while awaiting the adjudication of a claim.
Along with Grassley and Gillibrand, the Protecting America’s First Responders Act is cosponsored by senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-N.C), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).
It’s also supported by:
Text of the legislation is available HERE.
Grassley recently raised concern with DOJ that a lack of formal guidelines for adjudicators could be leading to inconsistent findings when processing disability claims
In 2017, Grassley and Gillibrand partnered to address long waits for adjudication of PSOB death benefits through improved transparency. Their bill is now law.