WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a tersely worded letter to embattled U.S. Attorney General William Barr, U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. called on the Department to address widespread delays in the administration of benefits to the families of fallen police officers.
As of April 2019, hundreds of families across the nation have yet to receive benefits for their death, disability, or education claims through the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB) Program, according to Ruiz.
The letter requests a detailed account of how the Department has incorporated previous recommendations from the Government Accountability Office and the Department’s own Inspector General, as well as how they have implemented legislation to improve the program’s efficiency and address the enduring backlog of active cases.
Red tape and bureaucratic delays can prevent families from accessing their benefits for years, causing families to permanently lose out on as much as $10,000, according to Ruiz.
“Families of fallen officers make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our communities. They grieve, they suffer, they lose financial stability – but they are denied timely access to the resources that allow them to get their lives back on track,” Dr. Ruiz said in a prepared statement. “I have personally heard from constituents affected by these delays, who can lose out on thousands of dollars while waiting years for benefits that are insufficient for them to pay their bills and afford their children’s education. As a nation, we can and must do better to provide the families of fallen officers with the benefits they have earned and deserve.”
It’s not the first time Ruiz has gone to bat for fallen police officers.
Earlier this year, Ruiz introduced H.R. 1210, the Heroes Lesley Zerebny and Gilbert Vega First Responders Survivors Support Act. The bipartisan bill would update the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB) Program so that grieving families of fallen heroes have the support they need to pay off their debt, pursue an education, and get back on their feet. The bill is named after fallen Palm Springs Police Officers Gil Vega and Lesley Zerebny, who were killed in the line of duty in October 2016.
“The first year after your hero has fallen is usually the most difficult time for families,” Gloria Vega, the mother of Officer Lesley Zerebny, said in a prepared statement. “Having the claim be processed in a timely manner helps with families who are in need of the financial support and security it brings to allow us to grieve in the manners in which we need. Some are left without a means of support to pay for common necessities, without insurance for counseling, or left without compensation for the moments when grief has struck you immobile and you need to take time off work. Having the claim would, could and will lessen the stress in those scary and dark times.”
The PSOB Program was established in 1976 to encourage more people to enter the public safety officer workforce by providing them with assurances that their families would receive a fair death and education benefit if they are killed in the line of duty.
“To say our family has been devastated and crushed beyond words is an understatement. To make matters worse, many families struggle to live and take care of their children because they were dependent on their spouse’s income,” Dr. Matt Zerebny, the father-in-law of fallen officer Lesley Zerebny, said in a prepared statement. “They don’t have the ability to just grieve because now they have a second nightmare on top of the first one. Families don’t need this money one-to-five years from now – they need it now. These heroes, like our Lesley, gave their lives and shed their precious blood for complete strangers. We owe it to them to take care of their families when they’re experiencing unimaginable grief. Thank you [Dr. Ruiz] for all you have done for our families. I wish all politicians had your compassionate heart to help their constituents when they are going through an indescribable tragedy like what our fellow fallen heroes’ families are experiencing.”
Many families of fallen officers are struggling to make ends meet because the PSOB Program has not kept pace with the cost of living, according to Ruiz.
You can read the full text of the letter by clicking here.
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