Representing the Injured or Disabled Member Part 46: Federal Benefits for Public Safety Officers

By: Jim Cline and Erica Shelley Nelson

Representing the Injured or Disabled Member

Part 46: Federal Benefits for Public Safety Officers

This article is the 46th in a multiple part series covering the rights your injured and disabled members have and how you, as a union or guild representative, can best assist them.  Over the past several weeks and continuing for the next several weeks, we have been and will be publishing, in various segments, information on how state and federal laws protect your members who are hurt or otherwise unable to work. We will cover topics including disability discrimination law, the FMLA, job protection rights under the CBA, workers compensation, disability benefits, and the right to bring a civil lawsuit.

The topics we are covering are also addressed in detail in a book that we published: Helping the Injured or Disabled Member: A Guidebook for the Washington Law Enforcement and Fire Union Representative.  It is also our intention over the course of the next year to travel through the state and provide training to public safety union and guild representatives on how best to enforce these rights.  Expect to hear more on that in the months ahead.

This 46th article in these newsletter series provides a discussion concerning federal benefits available to officers or their families when there is a death or permanent disability in the line of duty. For more information, visit our Premium Website. There you will find an online version of the Injured or Disabled Member’s Guidebook and other information on the laws covering your members.

The Federal Government has adopted benefits to protect public safety employees and their families injured or killed under certain circumstances. These Benefits are defined under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOBA).

PSOBA provides a one-time payment of $339,881, (as of February 4, 2016, and adjusted annually) to families of public safety officers who die (on or after September 29, 1979) or are permanently and totally disabled (on or after November 29, 1990) as a “direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty.”[1]  If there are no children, the entire benefit is paid to the spouse.[2]  If there is a spouse and one child, the benefit is split 50-50 between the spouse and the child.[3]  If there is a spouse and more than one child, or no spouse, and multiple children, the payment is split between the spouse and children, or the children in equal shares.[4]  In the event the member has no spouse or children, the benefit is paid to other designated beneficiaries or to the member’s parents.

The PSOBA also provides educational assistance[5] to family members of public safety officers who die or are totally and permanently disabled in the line of duty.[6]  The educational assistance provided is a monthly allowance for students in full-time, three-quarter-time, or half-time education programs.[7]  Subject to certain limitations, a claim for educational assistance may be filed with the PSOBA Office at any time after the injury date.[8]  Similar to the death and disability benefit, if a claim for educational assistance is denied, the claimant must request a Hearing Officer determination before pursuing any civil claims in court, then must appeal to the Director.[9]

In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss who is considered a covered “public safety officer” under PSOBA.

[1] See Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Act of 1976 (PSOBA), 42 U.S.C. § 3796(a).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] “Educational assistance” includes expenses for tuition and fees, room and board, computer equipment, supplies, and transportation.  28 C.F.R. §§ 32.33.

[6] 42 U.S.C. § 3796d‑1.

[7] 38 U.S.C. § 3532.

[8] 28 C.F.R. § 32.32.

[9] 28 C.F.R. §§ 32.37, and 32.55.

**Visit our Premium Website for more information on Workers Compensation.**