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The Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. 3796 (PDF 135 Kb), et seq.) was enacted in 1976 to assist in the recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers and firefighters. Specifically, Congress was concerned that the hazards inherent in law enforcement and fire suppression and the low level of state and local death benefits might discourage qualified individuals from seeking careers in public safety, thus hindering the ability of communities to provide for public safety.
The PSOB Act was designed to offer peace of mind to men and women seeking careers in public safety and to make a strong statement about the value that American society places on the contributions of those who serve their communities in potentially dangerous circumstances.
The PSOB Program provides death benefits in the form of a one-time financial payment to the eligible survivors of public safety officers whose deaths are the direct and proximate result of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty.
The PSOB Program provides disability benefits for public safety officers who have been permanently and totally disabled by a catastrophic personal injury sustained in the line of duty if that injury permanently prevents the officer from performing any substantial and gainful work. Medical retirement for a line-of-duty disability does not, in and of itself, establish eligibility for PSOB benefits.
The PSOB Program includes the Public Safety Officers' Educational Assistance (PSOEA) Act. This act expands on the former Federal Law Enforcement Dependents Assistance Program to provide financial assistance for higher education for the spouses and children of federal, state, and local public safety officers who have been permanently disabled or killed in the line of duty. Educational assistance through the PSOEA Program is only available to the spouse or children of a public safety officer after the PSOB death or disability claim process has been completed and benefits have been awarded. The educational assistance may be used to defray relevant expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and other education-related costs. All PSOEA awards must, by law, be reduced by the amount of other governmental assistance that a student is eligible to receive.
As defined by Congress in Public Law 90-351 (Sec. 1217), a public safety officer is an individual serving a public agency in an official capacity, with or without compensation, as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or member of a rescue squad or ambulance crew. In October 2000, Public Law 106-390 (Sec. 305) designated employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as public safety officers under the PSOB Act if they were performing official, hazardous duties related to a declared major disaster or emergency. The legislation also indicated that state, local, or tribal emergency management or civil defense agency employees working in cooperation with FEMA are, under the same circumstances, considered public safety officers under the PSOB Act. Retroactive to September 11, 2001, chaplains also are included in the PSOB Act definition of a public safety officer.
The PSOB office works with national-level police and firefighter groups to provide visibility and emotional support to this unique constituency. Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), Inc., provides services and assistance for families and coworkers of fallen law enforcement officers during the annual National Police Week program. They also provide regional training sessions and several special seminars and extended programs for spouses, siblings, and children of slain officers. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation provides peer counseling, training, and technical assistance for the families and coworkers of firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. Some of their specific activities include developing and disseminating publications and reference materials for survivors and senior fire department managers and creating a public awareness strategy to promote the fire service and its critical role in public safety.