Press Releases

House Passes Legislation To Expand Mental Health Benefits For First Responders And Survivor Benefits For Families

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the Public Safety Officer Support Act, introduced by Rep. David Trone (D-MD), with strong bipartisan support. The bill would amend the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) to add coverage for first responders who are disabled or who die by suicide as a result of service-related traumatic events. Under current law the PSOB excludes mental health issues and suicide.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who represents many of the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, cosponsored the bill after meeting with his constituent Erin Smith, widow of MPD Officer Jeffrey Smith. Officer Smith died by suicide days after responding to the attack on the Capitol, where he was struck in the head with a metal pipe, an injury which Erin Smith later said “changed him.” After a year of advocacy by Erin Smith with the support of elected leaders including Beyer, the D.C. Police and Firefighters' Retirement and Relief Board ruled earlier this year that his injury was sustained “while performing his duties” and “was the sole and direct cause of his death."

“The legislation we passed today will help remove stigma wrongly attached to suicide and mental illness, both of which affect far too many first responders and their families,” said Beyer. “First responders are often put in the middle of events that inflict severe emotional trauma. This was the case for hundreds of officers who responded to protect the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, including four officers who later died by suicide. The sacrifices of these and other brave first responders who put themselves at risk to protect the public deserve recognition, respect, and financial recompense just like those of officers who experience other physical injuries in the line of duty. Congressman Trone’s legislation would accomplish this important reform, and I thank him for his leadership, with hope that the bill will move rapidly through the Senate so that the President can sign it into law.”

As noted by Rep. Trone’s office, the Public Safety Officer Support Act would:

  • Allow public safety officers to seek disability benefits for PTSD linked to severe trauma by directing the PSOB to designate work-related PTSD and acute stress disorders as a line of duty injury for eligible officers as well as those who are permanently disabled as a result of attempted suicide; and
  • Allow families of public safety 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 bill’s text includes language directing that its provisions “shall apply to any action taken by a public safety officer [as defined earlier in the text] that occurred on or after January 1, 2019,” which will effectively apply coverage to officers who responded to the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

Beyer is the founder and co-chair of the House Suicide Prevention Task Force.