Peters Joins Colleagues to Introduce Bill to Aid Families of Fallen, Severely Injured Police Officers

WASHINGTON, DC – As the United States marks National Police Week, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), a member of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, today joined Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to introduce the bipartisan Fairness for Fallen Officers Act of 2015 to close an unintended loophole in the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program and ensure families of fallen and permanently disabled officers receive the benefits they deserve. 

Families of law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty are entitled to death and education benefits through PSOB, but these benefits are occasionally denied or delayed for the loved ones of officers who suffer severe heat stroke or over-exertion in the course of duty. The Fairness for Fallen Officers Act of 2015 would specify that fatal or permanently disabling climate-related injuries, including hypothermia and hyperthermia resulting from official duties or training in extreme weather conditions, are deserving of full recognition under the law.

“Our law enforcement officials and public safety officers work every day to serve and protect our communities, and we must properly honor those sacrifices if an officer tragically suffers permanent disability or falls in the line of duty,” said Senator Peters. “As we recognize National Police Week, I’m proud to join with my colleagues to introduce this important legislation that will ensure the families of disabled and fallen officers can get the benefits and assistance they have earned during their loved one’s service." 

“As we recognize our law enforcement officers who risk their lives to keep us safe for National Police Week, we must also do everything we can to honor our obligations to fallen heroes and their families,” said Senator Coons. “I am grateful to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program that has helped ensure the families of officers who tragically lose their lives or are permanently disabled in the line of duty receive the benefits they deserve. Unfortunately, a loophole in the law has left some deserving families in limbo, waiting indefinitely for these benefits. This bill would close this unintended loophole, so no family will again be forced to grieve through a lengthy legal process.”

“Law enforcement officers make enormous sacrifices to keep our communities safe, and our legislation will ensure that if they tragically fall in the line of duty, their families will receive the benefits they’ve earned,” said Senator Portman. “I’m pleased to introduce this legislation as we recognize National Police Week, and to express gratitude for their continued service.”

“We must ensure that permanently disabled public safety officers and the families of public safety officers who suffer fatal climate-related injuries are afforded the benefits they have earned and deserve in a timely fashion,” said Senator Ayotte. “This important legislation closes a troublesome loophole that has caused these benefits to be unreasonably delayed or even denied.”

Due to an unintended loophole in the PSOB program, families of officers who die or suffer permanent disabilities stemming from climate-related injuries could potentially endure years of administrative and appeals processes in order to access death and education benefits. The Fairness for Fallen Officers Act of 2015 would address this shortcoming by adding climate-related injuries to the list of injuries eligible for benefits under the PSOB program. This simple fix will save families the heartache and stress of spending years fighting for the benefits they deserve.

“We’ve seen before that PSOB regulations don’t always cover every officer and family who deserve resources through this program, and it’s clear that there is still a gap for officers who die from over-exertion," said Dianne Bernhard, Executive Director Emeritus of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.). "The surviving families of officers who have died in extreme training sessions deserve the same treatment as the families whose loved ones have fallen in other ways, and I’m proud that this bill expands these critical benefits.”

On October 9, 2001, Officer Charles McDonald of the Forest Park Police in Ohio tragically died following SWAT training. A medical evaluation later determined that Officer McDonald’s death was the result of rhabdomyolysis, a condition caused by extreme overexertion where the skeletal muscles manufacture a toxin that destroys the kidneys. Officer McDonald’s family described the process of securing PSOB benefits as long, drawn out, and painful – a process that involved hiring an attorney, obtaining old childhood medical records, and waiting three years for a resolution. The Fairness for Fallen Officers Act of 2015 would guarantee this doesn’t happen again, by ensuring climate-related injuries receive full recognition under the PSOB.

The Fairness for Fallen Officers Act has been endorsed by Concerns of Police Survivors, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and the family of Officer Charles McDonald.

Recently, Senator Peters cosponsored legislation to create a National Blue Alert system to disseminate critical information to law enforcement agencies, the public and the media and help apprehend violent criminals who have injured or killed police officers.