Washington, DC – Most law enforcement officers who succumb to COVID-19-related illness will be recognized as having contracted the disease in the line of duty, the federal government announced on Thursday.
The announcement was made by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which oversees the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program.
The benefits program is tasked with providing “death benefits to the eligible survivors of public safety officers who are fatally injured in the line of duty,” as well as disability benefits to officers who are “catastrophically injured in the line of duty,” according to the BJA’s press release.
Prior to the pandemic, the BJA received over 1,000 claims every year.
“With the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, America’s law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders face a new health risk as they continue to selflessly serve their communities,” the BJA said.
“Under the current Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Act and its implementing regulations, conditions caused by infectious diseases, viruses, and bacteria may be found to be an injury sustained in the line of duty,” according to the release.
In order to establish eligibility for benefits, the BJA must be presented with evidence that shows “it is more likely than not that the disease resulted from the public safety officer’s exposure” occurred while they were working, the BJA explained.
“In general, BJA will find that the evidence shows a public safety officer with COVID-19 contracted it in the line of duty, when (1) the officer had engaged in line of duty action or activity under circumstances that indicate that it was medically possible that the officer was exposed to the virus, SARS-CoV-2, while so engaged; and (2) the officer did contract the disease, COVID-19, within a time-frame where it was medically possible to contract the disease from that exposure,” the BJA confirmed.
The BJA will also “generally find” that COVID-19 was the cause of death for public safety officers who died while suffering from the disease anytime there is no “evidence showing a different cause of death,” according to the release.
The announcement was heralded by National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Patrick Yoes, who praised President Donald Trump and his administration for the decision.
“Frustrated by a lack of conclusive evidence, we took this matter directly to the White House and to Attorney General [William] Barr,” Yoes said in a press release. “We are extremely grateful, as always, to President Trump for his decisive leadership, especially in this time of crisis and for the exceptional team he has put together at the Justice Department.”
Although the decision cannot lessen the risks law enforcement officers face as they continue to serve their communities during the pandemic, it does provide some assurances that their families will have support if needed.
“This was a vitally important issue for the men and women on the front lines during this pandemic crisis,” Yoes noted in the press release. “I hope this assurance will bring some comfort and peace of mind to our officers that their families will be taken care of should they contract this horrible virus in the line of duty.”
Over 350,000 law enforcement officers belong to the FOP, which is the largest law enforcement organization in the country.