|For Immediate Release
June 6, 2012
Contact: Charlotte Sellmyer, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Full Committee Markup of
H.R. 4018, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Improvements Act of 2012
Chairman Smith: H.R. 4018, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvements Act of 2012, amends an existing program within the Justice Department that administers benefits to certain public safety officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.
I thank Representative Michael Fitzpatrick for his introduction of this legislation, which makes common-sense, cost-saving reforms to the program.
Congress passed the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOB) in 1976. Originally, the PSOB program provided only death benefits to the survivors of officers killed in the line of duty. It was later expanded to provide benefits to officers disabled in the line of duty and education benefits to the spouses and children of officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.
Congress has amended the PSOB program numerous times over the last 36 years to add additional beneficiaries or make modifications to the program. Unfortunately, some of these changes have resulted in inconsistencies within the law or have unintentionally delayed the PSOB benefit process.
For instance, each PSOB claimant must be examined by an impartial medical examiner who advises the Justice Department’s decision to award benefits. But the PSOB statute and its regulations require that the medical examiner be hired from the city where the officer was killed or injured.
This has caused significant delays in processing PSOB claims.
The Department must expend significant time and resources to find a medical professional who is familiar with the PSOB program and its requirements. The Department must then convince them to perform the necessary medical exam. This process can take weeks if not months to complete.
The solution is to allow the Department to pull from a pool of trusted, qualified medical professionals and send them across the country to perform the necessary examinations. The PSOB program already authorizes this for hearing examiners. This simple change saves valuable time and taxpayer dollars. It also ensures that the public safety officers and their families receive these much-needed benefits more quickly.
H.R. 4018 also clarifies who are eligible beneficiaries when an officer is killed in the line of duty. The payment of benefits is often postponed, sometimes for years, while the issue of who is the proper beneficiary is litigated. The program currently identifies the primary beneficiaries as the deceased officer’s minor children and spouse.
This bill creates a new category of beneficiaries, “adult children of deceased public safety officers,” to clarify eligible beneficiaries in certain cases where there are none. These cases include when a public safety officer’s children are all adults, there is no surviving spouse, no applicable designation of beneficiary is on file with the public agency, and the officer’s parents are deceased.
The PSOB benefits can currently be awarded to police officers, firefighters, chaplains or certain members of a rescue squad or ambulance crew who serve a public agency. But PSOB benefits are not authorized for volunteer emergency medical personnel. This bill fixes this inequity in a narrow way that when combined with savings from other efficiencies made by the bill, does not result in additional expense to the taxpayer.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has given this bill a score of zero.