The Public Officers Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 is an improved version of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 aimed at bringing positive changes for the Public Safety Officers Benefits program especially on matters of speedy processing of claims (Public Law, 2017). The Public Safety Officers Benefits Program enables the officers who sustain injuries or pass on in the process of their work to have disability, death, and education benefits as compensation by the government to enable them and their families to carry on with life. Senator Chuck Grassley is a thinker behind the law that he proposed in 2017. The new law indicates that the Department of Justice must provide reports to the Congress regarding the cases of death and disability benefits for the target officers and their families whose process is not cleared. The department has to write and submit such reports pertaining to the benefits program twice a year. In addition, every week the Department of Justice has to post on its website status updates on all pending claims (Republican Policy Committee, 2017). S.419 Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 is a relief for public safety officers and their families, and it had a profound impact on the management of the public safety administrations.
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Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 and its Impacts
The efforts to compensate the public safety officers who died in the course of their duties began as early as 1976, when the legislators signed the Public Safety Officers Benefits Act into law. Lawmakers have amended the law over the years to expand the pool of eligible officers and provide for education and disability benefits. The Public Safety Officers Benefits Act of 1976 provided a foundation for the Public Safety Officers Benefits program and placed it under the supervision of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Department of Justice (Republican Policy Committee, 2017). Through the program, the state provides with payments public safety officers who are permanently disabled because of injuries sustained while at work and families of public safety officers who pass on while at work. In addition, the program enables the spouses and children of deceased or disabled public safety officers get education benefits because of the incapacitation or death of their provider. The family of public safety officers can get a benefit of $343,589 after the confirmation of Bureau of Justice Assistance that the officer passed on because of a direct injury while in the line of duty (James, 2017). Similarly, the Bureau also pays disabled officers a benefit of $343,589 upon the determination of a direct injury when in the line of duty as a disability cause (James, 2017). The Public Safety Officers Benefits program is a thoughtful way of appreciating all the ladies and gentlemen who risk their lives every day for the public.
The Public Safety Officers Benefits Act of 1976 has gone through amendments over the years with the most current one being the S149 Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 (Republican Policy Committee, 2017). Under the S419, the department of justice has the powers and authorities to set rules and regulations as well as procedures guiding the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program in tandem with the standards created by another federal agency. Determination of a claimant’s eligibility for disability or death benefits must rely on sufficient evidence provided to the Bureau of Justice Assistance by a state, local or federal agency. The Bureau must make attempts to obtain the documentation from the claimant or the claimant’s family if a third party agency cannot provide the documentation (Public Law, 2017). If it is impossible to obtain the documentation and information even after use of investigative tools such as subpoenas, then the Bureau of Justice Assistance may abandon the claim.
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The amount of time taken to process claims has always been a great challenge for the Public Safety Officers Benefits program. Reports from the United States Government Accountability Office 2009 concerning the Public Safety Officers Benefits program indicate that the approval and closing claim processes differ according to the type of claim. In the fiscal year 2006 to 2008, the program approved about 80 percent of death claims and closed 78 percent of that claims the other hand, its users approved and closed all the education claims filed over the same period (Sherrill, 2016).Meanwhile, the responsible parties closed only 31percent of disability claims during the review period without the determined approval. The period of time from the death or disability point to the start of claim processing by the Public Safety Officers Benefits office is different for every claim type. In the cases of claims associated with death, the average time lies between 7 months to a year, while, on the other hand, claims related to disability take 4 to 6 years (Sherrill, 2016). Education-related claims accompanied by the confirmed death claims last from 7 and 10 years (Sherrill, 2016). The period of time from the receipt of claim by the Public Safety Officers Benefits program office to the receipt of a final determinant letter by a claimant also varies by the claim type. For death claims, this period was 9 to 13 months, 17 to 26 months for disability claims, and 4 to 6 months for education claims (Sherrill, 2016). This resulted in long waiting periods for claimants and their families.
Despite availability of information and documentation, the responsible parties were processing claims during too long periods of time. The Public Safety Officers Benefits program officials claim that the factor that may affect the time taken to process claims implies the difficulty of getting the required documentation to prove eligibility (Sherrill, 2016). The process involved in obtaining enough medical documentation from the party launching claims and the review by an independent Bureau of Justice Assistant greatly influences the delays in disability claim processing (Sherrill, 2016). The S.419: Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 eliminates documentation and, hence, makes it easy to process the disability claims for the affected officers. Section four of the legislation requires a speedy process of claims for the affected people. It also ensures that the Bureau of Justice assistance will make attempts to obtain the required information and that a claim can only be closed after the usage of all the available investigative tools including subpoenas by the Bureau (Public Law, 2017). Consequently, it is possible to effectively resolve all claims including backlogged ones and reduce the issues of the lack of documentation.
Public Safety Officers and their families have faced challenges in providing evidence to support their claims. The claimant or their relatives have to provide evidence and the documentation showing that the injury was a result of duties assigned to work (James, 2017). If a claimant cannot provide this information, then the claim takes even longer to process. This has been a major challenge for the claimants because some of the information required can be quite difficult to retrieve. The Act of 2017, however, makes the process easier for claimants who are not capable of providing the required documentation. Section four of the legislation instructs the Bureau of Justice to make sure that there is documentation for all cases involving injuries, which includes cooperation with the beneficiaries and the third parties involved. Moreover, the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program has a duty to contract another federal agency to create rules, regulations, and formal procedures with a foundation on the agency’s standards (Public Law, 2017). Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017, therefore, ensures that the Bureau makes all attempts to obtain the required documentation in support of a claim.
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A claim follows up process can be cumbersome and exhausting for a claimant or the claimants family. Public Safety Officers Benefits Program was not updating on their website issues like the status of claims launched by the affected officers and their relatives, and this made it hard for them to follow up on the claims. Section 2 of the S.419 Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 orders the Bureau of Justice Assistance to provide reports on a weekly basis regarding the status of the claims on a public website (Public Law, 2017). The report will also contain all the past and present unprocessed claims including the time it will take to process each of them and a detailed description of what has caused the delay. The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017, therefore, makes the process of following up on a claim much easier for the claimants and their families.
Death and disability benefits tend to be tricky to get, especially if it is impossible to determine that the death or disability was caused by the public officer’s negligence. The payments for a disability or death claim does not apply in the cases where the officer intended to cause self-harm or death or in the cases of recklessness, alcoholism or intoxication in the line of duty, as this appears as a fabrication of events to facilitate payment (James, 2017). However, it can, be very difficult to determine, if a public safety officer neglected the duty and, consequently, caused his or her own death or disability. In addition, some death or disability claims can be abandoned because they have failed to prove that the injury was not a result of negligence. The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 requires that the Bureau carefully examine the evidence produced by the state, local as well as the Federal administrative agencies that apply in identifying the injureds eligibility to compensation. Furthermore, Section 5 of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 states that the bureau’s decision to deny a victim claims benefit with no clear evidence that the officer’s behavior was inappropriate in the time of the accident is illegal (Public Law, 2017). This issue, therefore, minimizes the chances of death and disability claims to be closed based on the conduct of an officer without convincing evidence.
There have been stumbling blocks to the Public Safety Officers Benefits program office in the process of executing its work in the service of the affected public officers. The Government Performance and Result Act 1993 compels all the agencies in the executive branch to set strategic goals and evaluate their performance as well as issue reports regarding the achievement of those goals, which aim at promoting accountability and assuring the public that the agencies are performing effectively (Sherrill, 2016). The agencies are also supposed to have measures of administrative control according to the Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act of 1982 (Sherrill, 2016). The Government Accountability Office together with the Office of Management and Budget provides the guidelines for proper goal setting, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting in such institutions. According to the report provided by the Government Accountability Office in 2009, the Public Safety Officer Benefits Program was not transparent to the public in frames of activities, goals, monitoring, and evaluation of the achievements (Sherrill, 2016). Further, the program failed the accountability test, as it ignored the performance monitoring guidelines set by the government. However, Section 2 of the S.419 Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 addressed the problem of accountability to the public by ordering the Bureau of Justice Assistance to publicize reports on a weekly basis pertaining to the status of claims to do with education, death or disability on the public website. The report captures the date when the victim launched the claim, the assigned claim number, the type of the claim, and the place where the affected person lives (Public Law, 2017). In this regard, the law makes the Public Safety Officers Benefits program ensure that there is accountability and transparency to improve the efficiency of service to the affected officers.
Age can limit a person to receiving his or her entitled benefits. The Federal Law Enforcement Dependents Assistance Act of 1996 authorizes the Public Safety Officers Educational Assistance program to provide benefits relating to education for spouses as well as children of public safety officers who passed on or been disabled while at work (James, 2017). The Public Safety Officers Educational Assistance program helps the affected officers and their children to foot the education bills that include tuition fee, stationery fee, and accommodation money. Spouses eligibility to the education benefits has no age limitations. However, children are not eligible for the education benefits after their 27th birthday (James, 2017). The program does not provide education benefits for full-time education or the equivalent of part-time education for a period of more than 45 months (James, 2017). The program offers the affected officers a sum of $1024 for full-time college education (James, 2017). The law, however, addressed the suffering experienced by the disabled officers and their children as well as those of their dead officers. The law makes sure that all children borne by the affected officers have access to education benefits that earlier were not the case due to the delays in the benefits program. Section 3 of the same law indicates that in the case when the processing of the benefits takes more than a year to materialize from the date of the claim launching, then there must be an extension on the length of the coverage period. This extension makes sure that the compensation caters for the time the beneficiaries have missed the benefits due to the delayed processing (Public Law, 2017). From the provided information, it is evident that the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 addressed the plight of children who suffered due to the delays in the processing of their educational benefits, and thus it improved the service.
The Public Officers Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 originates from the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1986. The aim of the proponents was to help the Public Safety Officers to access their Benefits Program in a timely manner to redress their suffered injuries in the course of duty. The Public Safety Officers Benefits program has been in existence under the provisions of the Public Safety Officers Benefits Act of 1976 and it is under the patronage of the Bureau of Assistance Justice; it offers Public Safety Officers and their families with benefits relating to death, disability, and educational in the case of eventualities in the process of work. The Program has faced the challenges in terms of the periods of time necessary to process claims, difficulty in getting the required documentation to support claims, children of claimants being locked out of the educational benefits. However, Public Officers Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 has created solutions to these challenges by requiring that the Bureau expedite the processing of claims and provide on their website details of all pending claims. Under the law, the Bureau have the duty to employ all the means of investigating claims launched by the affected officers to establish their eligibility for the compensation benefits, and thus, as per the law, only claims that lack documentation qualify for rejection. The law also states that the delayed processes in claims must be accompanied by an extension of the coverage period to compensate the lost time, if the delays took more than one year after the client launched the case. As from the provided information, it is evident that the Public Safety Officers Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 has brought significant changes in the Public Safety Officers claim benefits, and thus is has promoted justice for the officers who suffer accidents in the process of their duty towards the nation.