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February 11, 2022

A Bipartisan Group of Senators Is Pushing for Better Benefits for Federal Officers With PTSD

Credit: Government Executive, Eric Katz

Federal law enforcement officers would become eligible for significant financial assistance if they contract post-traumatic stress disorder on the job under a bill introduced Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators.

The 2022 Public Safety Officer Support Act (S. 3635) would presume a federal—or other government—officer with PTSD developed the condition on the job. The measure would make such law enforcement personnel eligible for disability assistance through the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program, which currently only covers physical ailments. 

Deaths by suicide for such officers—those involved in stressful work, emergency services, prison security, disaster relief and other areas—would also be presumed to be a proximate result of on-the-job stress and therefore their survivors would be eligible for death benefits. In 2017, the lawmakers said, more than 240 public safety officers at all levels of government died by suicide, but none of their survivors received benefits through the federal program. 

The benefits are administered by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The current benefit for eligible deaths and disabilities is about $390,000.

“Much like our troops who have served in combat, members of our law enforcement community also carry with them invisible wounds inflicted by traumatic incidents experienced in the line of duty,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who cosponsored the bill. “That’s why it’s critical these men and women have easy access to mental health resources and families of officers who have died by suicide receive the benefits they are entitled to.”

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association endorsed the measure, saying the bill would help address a “historic increase” in law enforcement suicides and bring civilian federal benefits in line with the military. 

“Regrettably, law enforcement in the United States is just beginning to understand, comprehend, and address officer mental health and wellness issues,” FLEOA President Larry Cosme said. “The Public Safety Officer Support Act accelerates this important conversation by recognizing and supporting the mental health challenges facing the law enforcement profession.”

Congress recently updated the benefits program to include law enforcement officers’ personal injuries and deaths resulting from COVID-19. Rep. David Trone, D-Md., has introduced companion legislation with bipartisan support in the House. Four Democrats and four Republicans attached their names to the Senate measure, which was introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. 

“These officers and their families are entitled to the same benefits as those suffering from a physical injury, and I hope this legislation will help provide them with the support they deserve and break down the stigma around mental health impacts in law enforcement,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., another sponsor on the measure.