INTRODUCTION

This page is offered as a resource for those who have questions or want to learn more about Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB).

It is not sanctioned by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys.

For official PSOB information, visit: https://bja.ojp.gov/program/psob/law-and-regulations

We created this area of our site because we have been contacted many times over the years by individuals seeking help or answers regarding PSOB or about line-of-duty death in general – not just from our service area, but from around the country. The inquiries have been from individuals who were scouring the internet for help or information and having difficulty finding what they were seeking. Even though we did not reference PSOB on our website previously, many still found us and asked for information or help.

As an organization, we take great pride in filing the vast majority of PSOB claims from our service area (Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri). We file multiple claims each year, and two of our staff members have each filed close to 100 claims. We have also filed or assisted with claims in 17 states outside our service area.

We are a non-profit and receive no financial benefit for our assistance.

This is not an offer to file claims outside our service area. Unfortunately, we do not have the staffing to do so. However, we would be happy to entertain questions and help connect those needing assistance with knowledgeable individuals in other areas.

Inquiries can be sent to HonorAndBenefits@SupportingHeroes.org or you can reach us at (502) 585-2282.

Again, we are not attorneys, and the Department of Justice has not reviewed or approved our content. We present this information simply as a resource for general information. It is not intended as legal advice. For specific laws and regulations, refer to the DOJ-PSOB site linked above.

OVERVIEW

Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) were established as an enticement and to offer peace of mind to those serving as public safety officers that their families would receive certain benefits if they were to die or become disabled in the line of duty (as defined by federal criteria).

PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICERS

Generally speaking, a Public Safety Officer is a first responder (law enforcement, fire service, rescue, ambulance, or corrections) who serves a unit of government or, in some instances, a non-profit that delivers public safety services as if it were a unit of government. Certain judicial officers, public safety chaplains, FEMA, and emergency management personnel are also covered in limited circumstances.

Individuals who serve entities that have owners, stockholders, or others who profit from its services (such as for-profit ambulance services) do not qualify as Public Safety Officers even if the entity contracts with a unit of government to provide 9-1-1 emergency services.

ELIGIBLE INDIVIDUALS

It is not enough to be an employee or volunteer of a covered agency, such as a police department, fire department, ambulance service, rescue squad, or corrections facility. An individual must meet certain requirements in regard to duties and authority in order to qualify as a Public Safety Officer.

The following are limited examples:

Law enforcement officers – those who enforce the criminal laws including control or reduction of crimes or of juvenile delinquency; prosecution or adjudication of individuals who are alleged or found to have violated such laws; prison security activity; and supervision of individuals on parole or probation for having violated such laws.

Firefighters – individuals trained in the suppression of fire or hazardous-material response and who have legal authority or responsibility to engage in such on behalf of the qualifying agency they serve.

Members of rescue squad or ambulance crews – individuals engaged in rescue activity or the provision of emergency medical services and are authorized by law and the agency to engage in such.

Disaster relief workers – employees of FEMA acting in certain circumstances or of a state, local, or tribal emergency management or civil defense agency working in cooperation with FEMA in certain circumstances.

NOTE: Under limited “candidate officer” provisions, some can qualify as public safety officers while in training.

CONTRACTORS

Individuals must be employees or volunteers serving a covered entity. Contractors are not eligible.

LINE OF DUTY — GENERALLY DEFINED

It is important to recognize that every relevant entity (federal government for federal benefits purposes; state governments for state benefits purposes; retirement systems; national memorials; state memorials; each public safety agency; etc.) has its own definition of “line-of-duty death” or “line-of-duty injury.” In any particular instance, a death or injury could qualify as “line of duty” according to the criteria of one or more entities but, at the same time, not qualify as such by one or more others.

It is also important to recognize that the laws and regulations that govern PSOB are very comprehensive and stand on their own. A line-of-duty death classification by any other entity has no bearing on the Department of Justice classification for PSOB purposes. The PSOB determination will be strictly pursuant to the federal law and regulations.

As part of its fact-finding efforts, the PSOB Office will want to see the findings of other entities such as Worker’s Compensation and the state’s line-of-duty death benefits entity. The actual determination by such entities will have no bearing on PSOB determination. but their investigative findings could.

LINE OF DUTY DEATH — AS DEFINED BY PSOB

For PSOB purposes, a death is considered to have occurred in the line of duty if it is a direct and proximate result of an injury sustained in the line of duty. And an injury is considered to have occurred in the line of duty only if it is sustained in the course of:

a) performance of line-of-duty activity or line-of-duty action;

b) during authorized commuting; or

c) the injured party’s status as a public safety officer was a substantial contributing factor in the injury, or it was in retaliation for a line-of-duty activity or action by that public safety officer or that of another.

NOTE: See below for more information about authorized commuting.

AUTHORIZED COMMUTING

Authorized commuting provisions define when travel is considered to be line-of-duty activity. For example, commuting to and from work for a regular shift in a personal vehicle is not considered line-of-duty activity. However, being called in pursuant to an emergency would likely qualify.

In general, “authorized commuting” is when a public safety officer is:

  • Responding or traveling in the course of official duty, but NOT when one deviates from the response or official duty to engage in personal activity, such as going out of the way to run a personal errand (termed a “frolic or detour” in the regulations)
  • Traveling between home and work or between one work location and another, when:
    • Using a vehicle provided by the agency (such as an assigned “take home” vehicle) or other vehicle provided for that purpose
    • Using a vehicle that is not provided by the agency but required by the agency to be used for work (such as when someone who does not have a take-home vehicle is required to use his/her personal vehicle to come in for an emergency — but not for a regular shift or routine overtime shift) or when directed to use a personal vehicle to move from one work location to another (such as when moving from one fire station to another to cover a vacancy);
      • and the individual has not deviated to engage in a “frolic” or “detour.”

NOTE: These provisions cover volunteers who respond to emergencies (to a station or a scene) in their personal vehicles. And when someone is called to respond in such situations, the authorized commuting extends to their travel home afterward — here again, until such time as the individual engages in a “frolic” or “detour.”

HOMETOWN HEROES ACT and HEART ATTACKS, STROKES, AND VASCULAR RUPTURES

Since it is often difficult to prove conclusively that certain medical events were the direct and proximate result of specific line-of-duty activity, presumptive provisions (the foundation of which was established by the passage of the Hometown Heroes Survivors’ Benefits Act of 2003) have been established regarding heart attacks, strokes, and vascular ruptures. (Please note that there is significant misunderstanding of these guidelines.)

In general, if a public safety officer:

  • suffers a heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture — or becomes symptomatic thereof,
  • within 24 hours of engaging in physically stressful or strenuous line-of-duty activity,
  • and dies as a direct and proximate of that heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture (there is no time limit),
  • it is presumed that the line-of-duty activity caused the injury and that the death therefore occurred in the line of duty.

The presumption applies UNLESS there is compelling evidence to the contrary.

To be clear, death does NOT have to occur within 24 hours of the qualifying activity, only the injury (the heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture) has to occur within that time period. If the injury occurs within 24 hours and the death is determined to be a direct result thereof — regardless of how much later it occurs, then the presumption should hold.

Also, the end of an individual’s shift is generally irrelevant to the determination of the 24-hour window. The 24-hour clock starts ticking when the public safety officer concludes the physically stressful or strenuous line-of-duty activity. Plus, it is worth noting that the qualifying line-of-duty activity could actually occur while an individual in not officially on duty, such as when rendering emergency medical assistance or making an arrest other than during a formal shift.

Please also note that activities of a clerical or non-manual nature do not qualify as “physically stressful or strenuous.”

ACITIVITES PERFORMED “OUT OF JURISDICTION”

There are provisions whereby off-duty activities performed outside one’s agency’s jurisdiction could qualify as line-of-duty activity for PSOB purposes.

SUICIDE

With the passing of the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022 (PSOSA), public safety officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, or trauma and stress related disorders can be eligible for PSOB death and disability benefits.

AUTOPSIES AND TOXICOLOGY SCREENS

Contrary to popular belief, autopsies and toxicology screens are NOT required for PSOB purposes. Except in rare instances, the PSOB Office will not even ask if an autopsy was performed. This is one of the most commonly held false beliefs regarding PSOB requirements.

TIME LIMITATIONS ON FILING

There is a three-year limitation on submitting a PSOB claim. In situations where it is not possible to make a complete submission before the deadline, a partial submission could “stop the clock.” In such instances, the PSOB Office should be consulted to ensure that the minimum required documentation is submitted before the deadline.

There are provisions for exceptions to the three-year rule, but they are limited. Direct waivers are very rare. However, if the deadline has passed, the PSOB Office should be contacted to see if any options are available.

MISCONCEPTIONS

It is worth noting that there are many misconceptions about PSOB. One common one is that certain documents have to be submitted within a small window following a death. A common belief is that it has to be submitted within 24 hours. There is absolutely no truth to this. But this misconception causes some entities to intrude on a family’s grief and cause further overwhelm and pain by insisting that certain documents (birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, etc.) must be collected, scanned, and submitted right away.

Again, the deadline for filing is three years from the date of death. There are no requirements for any documents to be submitted earlier.

Another common misconception is that the goal of the Department of Justice is to deny claims. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The staff of the PSOB Office genuinely strive to approve claims. If the submitted documentation is insufficient, they will seek additional documentation that will meet the standard for approval and have even connected agencies having difficulty with knowledgeable resources for assistance. Their goal is genuinely to approve claims, not deny.

FILING A CLAIM

To file a PSOB Claim, go to www.PSOB.gov

However, we recommend that you seek assistance from a proven resource with direct experience filing claims before initiating any submission on your own.

Assistance is available at no charge from reputable non-profit organizations — some of which receive grant funding from the Department of Justice for this purpose.

Feel free to contact us for more information. Email HonorAndBenefits@SupportingHeroes.org or call (502) 585-2282.

FAQ

For Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) purposes, there is no requirement to notify within a certain number of hours of a death. The only requirement is that a claim for benefits be filed within three years. However, the Department of Justice recommends that claims be filed in less than three years to prevent the evidence from becoming stale.

NOTE: Agencies are required to notify OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) within eight hours of a line-of-duty death and within 24 hours of a serious injury. In many instances, significant fines have been levied for failure to comply with this mandate.

There is indeed a 24-hour rule that pertains to deaths of public safety officers. However, there is a great deal of misunderstanding regarding this and it is not what most believe.

The 24-hour rule pertains to public safety officers who suffer a heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture following duty and die as a result. But the 24-hour clock does not start ticking when the individual ends his/her shift. It starts ticking when the officer finishes the qualifying line-of-duty activity.

More specifically, the rule states that if:

1) a public safety officer engages in physically stressful or strenuous line-of-duty activity or action, and
2) suffers a heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture within 24 hours; and
3) dies as a direct and proximate result thereof

…then it is presumed that the injury and, therefore, the death occurred as a result of the duty UNLESS there is compelling evidence to the contrary.