PSOB Office Provides COVID-19 Program Update
March 31, 2020
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has published a one-page program update document explaining how the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program and implementing regulations treat conditions caused by infectious diseases like COVID-19. PSOB is a federal benefit paid to the family of a public safety officer who dies as the result of an injury sustained in the line of duty, or to a public safety officer who is totally and permanently disabled as a result of an injury sustained in the line of duty.
The program update document says that, “To establish eligibility for a public safety officer’s death or disability due to COVID-19, the PSOB Act and regulations require that the evidence show that it is more likely than not that the virus resulted from the public safety officer’s exposure while performing a line of duty activity or action.” In other words, in order for a PSOB application for COVID-19 to have a reasonable chance for success it will be critical that the public safety officer’s exposure(s) are well-documented.
There are a number of free exposure-tracking resources available to agencies and individual fire, EMS, and rescue personnel. FirstForward is a National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) partner that offers a free exposure tracking tool that also allows you to document additional details of the incident, such as other responders who may also have been exposed on the incident. The National Fire Operations Reporting System (NFORS), which is maintained by the International Public Safety Data institute (ISPDI), has a Fire Fighter Exposure Tracking App that can be downloaded and used for free. IPSDI has asked that firefighters click “share data” when they set up their individual profiles, which will allow them to send deidentified exposure data for COVID-19 and related illnesses to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Information about exposures does not have to be captured in any particular form or fashion to be considered as evidence as part of a PSOB claim. The PSOB Office will accept incident reports and related documents as evidence as part of a PSOB claim, but there is no requirement that exposures be formally recognized or documented by an agency to be considered as evidence. On a March 30 call that BJA held with stakeholder organizations, including the NVFC, the PSOB Office indicated that contemporaneous documentation – documentation that occurred immediately or soon after an exposure – would be highly valued.