Department of Justice Releases Updated PSOB Program Regulations
August 14, 2006
New Rule Implements Provisions Extending PSOB Coverage to
Victims of Heart Attacks and Strokes in the Line of Duty
Fairfax, VA, August 14, 2006…The final rule for the Public Safety Officers Benefit Program (PSOB) has been released by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and will go into affect on September 11, 2006. These new regulations implement provisions of the Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefit Act, passed into law in 2003, which extend PSOB coverage to victims of heart attacks and strokes in the line of duty.
The families of 132 firefighters who suffered heart attack or strokes in the line of duty have been awaiting the release of this rule to finalize their claims. The IAFC learned from the PSOB office in May 2006 that the office’s entire efforts will be focused on completion of these claims – some of which are more than two years pending – when the rule goes into affect in September.
The PSOB Program was created by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1976 to assist the families of fallen public safety officers with survivor benefits. The program was expanded in 1990 to include public safety officers who are permanently and totally disabled as a result of a catastrophic injury in the line of duty and again in 1998 to cover higher educational costs of spouses and dependents. In 2001, the base payment to survivors was increased to $250,000.
Departments that need to file a PSOB claim should visit https://www.psob.gov/. This new web site has been created by the PSOB office to facilitate the claims process and automate files to ensure accountability. Claimants have three years following the injury or fatality of an officer to file all pertinent reports and the PSOB office has staff members to assist in the process.
In September 2005, the IAFC joined with nine other fire service organizations and raised concerns with the proposed draft rule language during its comment period. These concerns were addressed in the final rule and we are pleased with these results. Of note, the proposed rule’s definition of a “firefighter” was changed to include all emergency activities, such as fire suppression, hazmat, technical rescue, search and rescue, emergency medical services, etc., and utilizes the more appropriate Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) definition.
The IAFC also raised concern with the proposed rule’s use of “competent medical evidence to the contrary” when assessing heart attack and stroke cases. To consider non-line-of-duty causes, the proposed rule utilized a “test” weighing risk factors. The final rule changed this and instead will consider medical probability of other factors on a case by case basis. Finally, the IAFC had raised concern with the proposed rule’s definition of “nonroutine stressful or strenuous physical activity,” finding it vague. The final rule retained the contested language but IAFC will continue to monitor this issue and the PSOB office begins implementing this rule on a case-by-case basis.
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