Last night President Biden signed H.R. 6943, the Public Safety Officer Support Act, into law. The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Rep. David Trone (D-MD) in the House and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in the Senate and co-sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer, will provide benefit coverage for first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or acute stress disorder after responding to a traumatic event. It will also expand survivor benefits for families by changing the definition of a “line-of-duty death” for the federal Public Safety Officer Benefit (PSOB) to include suicide in cases of first responders who respond to a mass casualty event or other kinds of traumatic events.
The law’s changes were drafted to apply retroactively, which means the bill’s provisions will apply to families of law enforcement and other first responders who died by suicide after responding to traumatic events dating back to January 1, 2019. The law’s expansion of benefits will therefore include the surviving next of kin for officers who died by suicide after defending the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who represents many of the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6, 2021, cosponsored the bill after meeting with his constituent Erin Smith, widow of MPD Officer Jeffrey Smith and a forceful advocate for this bill. Officer Smith died by suicide days after responding to the attack on the Capitol, where he was struck in the head with a metal pipe, an injury which Erin Smith later said “changed him.”
“The enactment of the Public Safety Officer Support Act is a major win for law enforcement, first responders, and their families, including the families of those who protected the Capitol on January 6th. I thank Reps. Trone and Reschenthaler, Senators Duckworth and Cornyn, and President Biden for their efforts to get us here.
“Our first responders work on the front lines of events that inflict severe trauma, including the January 6th defense of the Capitol. Four of the officers who put their lives at risk to protect our democracy that day later died by suicide. First responders who face these conditions to protect the public deserve recognition, respect, and financial recompense just like those of officers who experience other physical injuries in the line of duty. We owe so much to these heroes and to their surviving family members – people like my constituent Erin Smith, who has been fighting stigma and bureaucracy to get recognition for the sacrifices made by her husband, Officer Jeffrey Smith.
“In enacting this bill, Congress has taken a strong step to counter the stigma wrongly attached to mental illness and suicide. There is more that we can do on that front, and I look forward to continuing those efforts with my colleagues. For anyone experiencing crisis, please know that you can get help at any time of day or night by calling or texting 9-8-8.”
The Public Safety Officer Support Act will:
- Allow public safety officers to seek disability benefits for PTSD linked to severe trauma by directing the PSOB to designate work-related PTSD and acute stress disorders as a line of duty injury for eligible officers as well as those who are permanently disabled as a result of attempted suicide; and
- Allow families of public safety officers who die by trauma-linked suicide to apply for death benefits by directing the PSOB to presume that suicides are a result of job duties in certain traumatic circumstances where there is evidence that PTSD or acute stress disorder would be the cause of the injury.