PSOB Releases Guidance on COVID-19 Related Officer DeathsApril 10, 2020
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program issued an important update regarding how it will handle COVID-19 law enforcement officer death and disability cases.
NAPO sent out an email on March 30 on this topic, and our efforts to assure that the PSOB death and disability benefits will be available to officers and their survivors if they are injured or die due to COVID-19 illness or exposure. We expressly brought up the subject of how to prove the exposure, and the link between the exposure and the illness/death.
As you can see, the response from PSOB is actually about as good as we could have hoped. Please note the explicit reference to incident reports as an example of documentary evidence that may be considered, which is something that NAPO first proposed, based on our input on the conference call. Same thing with the implicit recognition that medical testing for officers is going to be frequently unavailable. This is as close as we can get to a statutory presumption in favor of our officers, until Congress also acts.
Meanwhile, NAPO continues to work with members of Congress to create a presumption in law that an officer who contracts COVID-19 did so in the course of their duties and are automatically eligible for PSOB benefits. We will keep our members updated on these efforts.
Finally, please see the below recommendations from our March 30 message to our members, which, again, we hope you will never have to use, but please do keep in mind so that we can do our part to make sure officers and their survivors are taken care of.
March 30, 2020
Dear NAPO members,
Today, Andy Edmiston and I participated in a conference call with the administrators of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (“PSOB”) program. The topic was how to prepare for and anticipate any claims for death benefits or injury benefits due to officers’ exposure to the Corona/COVID-19 virus.
As you know, the PSOB program works like a life insurance program for officers killed (or grievously injured) in the line of duty. It covers almost all law enforcement officers in the United States. The key point about coverage is that it is for “line of duty” deaths and injuries. For Corona/COVID-19 (as well as for other illnesses contracted due to on the job exposure) the important thing to keep in mind is that the “claimant” (the officer or officer’s survivors) will need to show that it was more likely than not that the illness and/or death was due to exposure to the virus while the officer was performing a line of duty activity or action. Unfortunately, there is no presumption in the PSOB program that an illness or injury/death of an officer was due to an on the job exposure. Some states do have such a presumption, but the national PSOB program does not.
So, what should we do to protect our officers and their families in the terrible event that an officer is stricken with this illness and dies?
- Document, document, document every possible, likely or confirmed exposure to the virus. This includes calls for service to a facility or location where the illness/virus is suspected or confirmed, as well as contacts with individuals who are exhibiting symptoms of the infection (dry cough, fever, shortness of breath) whether or not they have received a confirmed medical diagnosis. Obviously, if the location, such as a hospital ER or a nursing home, already is known or reported to be serving infected persons, that information should be documented.
- How to document? Include the relevant facts in any official report that you are required to make, and also take the time to note it yourself in any personal log or report. If it’s an official police department report, that’s the best, but even personal notes, made at the time of the incident, will be considered by the PSOB program in evaluating a claim.
- What to document? Location (type of facility, on the street, vehicle, enclosed space, etc.); whether it’s known, reported or suspected that persons with Corona/COVID-19 are/were present; proximity of contact; length of time of contact. Was the person out of the country recently? Where? Have they been in contact with other persons or locations where Corona/COVID-19 has been reported or suspected?
- Medical info: Whether you were informed that there was already a diagnosis of Corona/COVID-19 for that person/location. Or, in the absence of a formal diagnosis, especially since testing is still lagging, note such things as “I observed the person had a fever, a dry cough, and was complaining of shortness of breath, which I recognized as symptoms of infection by the Corona/COVID-19 virus, according to published guidance by the United States CDC.”
I sincerely hope that none of you will ever need to use this advice, but please do distribute it to your members so that, if the very worst should happen, we can at least have a better chance of supporting families and survivors.
View PSOB Guidance here.
View NAPO’s Letter to DOJ leadership calling for a presumption here.