Home News Police and firefighter survivors wait years for death benefits

Police and firefighter survivors wait years for death benefits

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A police officer stands guard near the funeral Mass for New York Police Department Officer Brian Moore,  Friday, May 8, 2015, at the St. James Roman Catholic Church in Seaford, N.Y. The 25-year-old died Monday, two days after he was shot in Queens, while on patrol. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
A police officer stands guard near the funeral Mass for New York Police Department Officer Brian Moore, Friday, May 8, 2015, at the St. James Roman Catholic Church in Seaford, N.Y. The 25-year-old died Monday, two days after he was shot in Queens, while on patrol. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)


When a firefighter or police officer dies in the line of duty, their family is entitled to a federal death benefit, but some families wait years for their applications to be processed.

USA Today conducted an investigation that reviewed almost 1,500 claims filed by families of firefighters and police officers killed since 2009. The investigation found that the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Programs, which was launched in 1976 to help out families of police, firefighters, and other emergency workers who die in the line of duty, has been mired in delays for more than a decade.

The delays come as a surprise to the investigators because millions of dollars were spent on outside audits and efforts to hire extra legal help to speed up processing languishing claims.

As of August, about 750 families were still waiting for answers on their claims for their expected one-time payment of about $340,000.

Out of the 1,500 claims that USA Today reviewed, they found that in the more than 900 cases the agency closed in April, the average time to review a case and make a decision was 391 days, which is longer than the agency’s goal of one year. 42% of those cases last more than a year, almost 100 families waited more than two years, and 25 families waited three years or more.

The investigation also found that in more than 500 cases that were still listed as pending as of this spring, 71% of survivors already had been waiting more than a year for a decision. Almost 200 families had been waiting for at least two years, and almost 50 families have been waiting for over four years.

When asked why processing the claims takes so long, the agency said that cases are complex and are sometimes delayed by families not providing enough information or documentation.

“Excuses at this point don’t meet the smell test,” said U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who has pushed for investigations of the program and faster answers for surviving families.

Senator Grassley also added that “The families of these fallen officers deserve timely answers. And, after decades of existence, and numerous independent reports outlining serious deficiencies in the process, the office doesn’t have a legitimate answer for why it allows so many of these cases to languish.”

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