February 10, 2022

Duckworth, Cornyn Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support the Families of Public Safety Officers


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) today introduced a bill to support the families of officers who struggle with their mental health or who are lost to trauma-linked suicides. These families are struggling to receive the benefits they deserve because federal law currently limits the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program to only cover physical injuries—completely excluding any support for mental health concerns. U.S. Representative David Trone (D-MD-06) has introduced bipartisan companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are also helping introduce this legislation.

“It’s a tragedy that the families of the police officers and first responders who died by suicide after putting their own safety on the line to keep us safe are struggling to get their loved ones’ deaths to be recognized as deaths in the line of duty,” Duckworth said. “I’m proud to introduce this important legislation that would provide so many grieving families with the acknowledgement and support they need after their tragic losses.”

"Much like our troops who have served in combat, members of our law enforcement community also carry with them invisible wounds inflicted by traumatic incidents experienced in the line of duty," said Cornyn. "That's why it's critical these men and women have easy access to mental health resources and families of officers who have died by suicide receive the benefits they are entitled to. This important bill will offer both support as well as closure to those who need it, and I'm proud to join Sen. Duckworth in introducing this legislation."

“Law enforcement officers are on the frontlines of major crises – from responding to mass shootings and domestic violence incidents, to protecting the United States Capitol during a violent insurrection,” said Booker. “These distressing experiences can have long-term impacts with many officers suffering from PTSD and others tragically taking their own lives. To support officers who have made the greatest sacrifice in the line of duty or face life-long trauma, I am proud to join a bipartisan, bicameral effort to ensure that the Public Safety Officer Benefit program provides financial benefits to officers who have developed mental health issues, and in the worst instances, died by suicide.”

“January 6 underscored the tragic toll that violent events take on law enforcement officers,” said Kaine. “We owe our law enforcement officers a tremendous debt of gratitude. I’m glad to help introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure the families of Virginian Officers Howie Liebengood, Jeffrey Smith, and other officers who we’ve lost to trauma-linked suicide can access critical support and benefits.”

“Every day across the country, public safety officers put their lives on the line, endure enormous pressure, and witness unimaginable tragedies in the line of duty to protect our communities.  Family members of public safety officers experience tremendous worry about the safety of their loved ones when they are in harm’s way,” said Collins. “We owe these brave men and women, along with their families, more than just our gratitude. This bipartisan bill will provide support for officers suffering from work-related PTSD, as well as provide grieving families with the resources and support they need.” 

“America’s law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every single day for our freedoms,” Inhofe said. “They deserve access to quality care for their mental health, their physical health and the assurance that their families will receive the benefits they deserve. That’s why I am proud to cosponsor this bill alongside Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Duckworth to support the families of officers who have lost their loved ones to service-connected suicide.”

“While law enforcement officers are offered support for physical injuries on the job, it’s important to remember the emotional and mental toll that traumatic events can have on our officers and their families’ lives. For the well-being of those putting their own safety on the line, we need to improve access to mental health resources and recognize the link between death by suicide and job-related trauma,”
said Durbin. “These officers and their families are entitled to the same benefits as those suffering from a physical injury, and I hope this legislation will help provide them with the support they deserve and break down the stigma around mental health impacts in law enforcement.”

The PSOB provides financial support to the families of firefighters, police officers, chaplains and emergency medical technicians who die in the line of duty or who have been permanently disabled as a result of a physical injury, including physical ailments that result from the stress of the job such as heart attacks. While the U.S. military already recognizes suicides by servicemembers as deaths in the line of the duty, the PSOB does not.

“As a profession, we do a good job at protecting our officers’ physical safety by providing them with tools like anti-ballistic body armor, but far too often we have failed to recognize or address the tremendous mental stress our officers endure as a consequence of their service,” Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Patrick Yoes said. “Law enforcement and other public safety officers face a 25.6 times higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder than those in other professions.  We believe that law enforcement suicides are underreported, but to the best of our knowledge, 169 officers took their own lives in 2021.  Your legislation provides that officers in crisis who take their own lives or attempt to do so will be considered as service-connected and, in some cases, the officer or their surviving family will be eligible for PSOB death or disability benefits.  It is time to recognize that long-term exposure to mental stress and traumatic events over the course of service can inflict “invisible injuries” on the men and women in law enforcement.  The fact is that severe PTSD is just as disabling as a physical injury and an officer who suffers from this or a similar disorder that may result in suicide is just as service-connected as any other line-of-duty death.”

“With the historic increase in law enforcement suicides, due in part to rising crime rates and an environment that emboldens targeted attacks on law enforcement officers, it is imperative that we recognize the impact of this high stress working environment on our officers’ mental health and well-being. In the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs has created robust suicide prevention and treatment programs and has acknowledged the impacts of the mental health disorders on military personnel. Regrettably, law enforcement in the United States is just beginning to understand, comprehend, and address officer mental health and wellness issues,” said FLEOA President Cosme, “The Public Safety Officer Support Act accelerates this importance conversation by recognizing and supporting the mental health challenges facing the law enforcement profession. We applaud Senator Duckworth and Senator Cornyn’s leadership on this issue.”

“While the PSOB Program has a long tradition of providing aid to the families of public safety officers who die from physical injuries sustained in the line of duty, the time has come for the Program to also support those who succumb to the unseen psychological and mental health impacts of public safety work,” said NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association President Vincent Vallelong. “In recent years and because of multiple recent high-profile incidents that have highlighted the heavy toll that stress and exposure to trauma have on law enforcement, the need for the ‘Public Safety Officer Support Act’ has only increased.  That is why we are proud to stand alongside Senators Duckworth and Cornyn to see it swiftly enacted into law.”

“As suicide continues to outpace all other line of duty deaths, except COVID, this historic legislation marks a turning point in the culture of first responders,” said Karen Solomon, Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer at Blue Help. “The ability to recognize those who suffer mental injuries as a result of their job will open doors to families left behind and to first responders currently suffering. We will no longer treat them or their service as less deserving of honor and recognition.”

The Public Safety Officer Support Act would:

  • Create an avenue for officers to seek disability benefits for PTSD by directing the PSOB to designate work-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder as a line of duty injury for eligible officers as well as those who are permanently disabled as a result of attempted suicide.
  • Allow families of 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.

The Public Safety Officer Support Act has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, National Association of Police Organizations, Sergeants Benevolent Association, National Sheriffs Association, Blue H.EL.P, the National Border Patrol Council, United States Capitol Police Labor Committee, and American Psychological Association.