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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
H.R. 4018, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Improvements Act of 2012, amends an existing program within the Justice Department that administers benefits to certain public safety officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.
I commend Representative Michael Fitzpatrick for his leadership on this issue and am pleased to be a cosponsor of this legislation.
The bill makes changes to the class of beneficiaries as well as some common-sense, cost-saving reforms to the program.
Congress originally passed the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Act, PSOB, in 1976. This program evolved from concern that State and local public safety officers and their families were not being provided with adequate death benefits. And that the low level of benefits might impede recruitment efforts and impair morale.
Originally, the PSOB program provided only death benefits to the survivors of officers killed in the line of duty. It was later expanded to provide benefits to officers disabled in the line of duty and education benefits to the spouses and children of officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.
Congress has amended the PSOB program many times since its inception. Some of the changes have resulted in inconsistencies within the law or have unintentionally resulted in a delay in the PSOB benefit process.
For example, each PSOB claimant must be examined by an impartial medical examiner who then advises the Justice Department regarding their decision to award benefits. But the PSOB statute and its regulations require that the medical examiner be hired from the city where the officer was killed or injured.
This causes significant delays and adds expense in processing PSOB claims and in administering the overall program.
The Department spends significant time and resources to find a medical professional who is familiar with the PSOB program and its requirements. That medical professional must also be available and agree to perform the necessary medical exam. This process can take weeks, if not months, to complete.
This bill provides a solution to this inefficiency. It allows the Department to develop and draw from a pool of trusted, qualified medical professionals to perform the necessary examinations across the country. This is similar to how the PSOB program authorizes their hearing examiners.
This simple change saves valuable time and taxpayer dollars. It also ensures that the public safety officers and their families receive these much-needed benefits more quickly.
H.R. 4018 also clarifies who are eligible beneficiaries when an officer is killed in the line of duty. Currently, the payment of benefits is often postponed, sometimes for years, while the issue of who is the proper beneficiary is litigated.
This bill creates a new category of beneficiaries, ``adult children of deceased public safety officers,'' to clarify eligible beneficiaries in certain cases where there are none. These cases include when a public safety officer's children are all adults, there is no surviving spouse, no applicable designation of beneficiary is on file with the public agency, and the officer's parents are deceased.
The PSOB benefits can currently be awarded to police officers, firefighters, chaplains or certain members of a rescue squad or ambulance crew who serve a public agency.
But PSOB benefits are not currently authorized for volunteer emergency medical personnel. This bill fixes this inequity in a narrow way that when combined with savings from other efficiencies made by the bill, does not result in additional expense to the taxpayer.
I urge my colleagues to join me in support of this bill.
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