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Injured on duty: The battle for benefits and the award that’s helping

Too many officers are fighting the battle to classify their injuries as injured on duty (IOD), and a national dialogue needs to be started on this topic to establish universal guidelines and criteria

Nominations for the Congressional Badge of Bravery (CBOB) award are being accepted — you can submit a nomination for a fellow officer now through February 15, 2015. The CBOB is one of the only national awards honoring law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty.

The award, sponsored by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is bestowed by the United States Attorney General and presented to the recipients by their Congressional representative.

The call for nominations brings up an issue that many officers face — one that doesn’t get much press or attention: What exactly is considered a line of duty injury?

An Uphill Battle
Too many officers are fighting the battle to classify their injuries as injured on duty (IOD), and a national dialogue needs to be started on this topic to establish universal guidelines and criteria.

An officer who suffers and succumbs to a heart attack while chasing a fleeing suspect may be considered an IOD by one agency, jurisdiction, or state; but not another. Workers compensation qualifications and classifications for IODs vary from state to state.

Growing concern about undiagnosed cases of Post-Traumatic Stress in the law enforcement ranks has agencies evaluating their wellness programs. Even so, officers who have legitimate diagnoses of PTSD are rarely considered IOD. Officers who manage to obtain the diagnosis and IOD classification often face an uphill battle over benefits;the frustration with worker’s compensation programs is practically a secondary injury.

Hundreds of our officers risked their lives on September 11, 2001. These officers bravely ventured into the towers to assist civilians. The lucky ones climbed out of the rubble after the towers collapsed. Hundreds of officers from around the country helped retrieve bodies for weeks afterward. These officers continue to engage in an ongoing battle to prove their cancers and other health ailments are related to their line of duty activities at ground zero.

DBOB Eligibility
To be eligible for the CBOB nomination, an officer must have sustained a physical injury while engaged in lawful duties, during 2014, with those injuries occurring while performing an act of bravery as defined by the agency’s head in-charge.

Will a Post-Traumatic Stress injury sustained after a deadly force encounter or after picking up body parts of a murdered child be considered an act of bravery by your agency?

What about a narcotics officer who suffers health issues from exposure to a meth lab?

Who determines within your agency or state worker’s compensation institution what constitutes a line of duty injury?

The time has come for law enforcement officers and their families to demand standardized classifications to eliminate the frustration and heartache incurred as they battle for injuries and ailments to be classified as IOD.

I continue to receive emails from officers and their families reporting their struggles to receive benefits and the hardships faced when dealing with worker’s compensation and agency red tape.

I hear from officers shot in the line of duty who fight for prescription coverage. After living with an injury for decades, officers have had their latest health crisis deemed not related to the line of duty injury.

As governments and agencies become more cash-strapped, the fight for benefits and classification of injuries will only get harder.

I applaud the Bureau of Justice Assistance for sponsoring the Congressional Badge of Bravery award to honor injured officers.

We must honor all our injured officers by making the battle to have injuries classified as “in the line of duty” less stressful and frustrating. These officers live with the sacrifice of their injuries every day. Let’s strive to eliminate the red tape they must go through to sustain their lives.

Information on nominating an officer for the Congressional Badge of Bravery follows:

A federal, state, local, or tribal law enforcement officer(s) nominated by his or her agency head, who:

Sustained a physical injury while:

1) Engaged in the lawful duties of the individual;
2) Performing an act characterized as bravery by the agency head making the nomination; and
3) Put the individual at personal risk when the injury occurred; or

While not injured, performed an act characterized as bravery by the agency head making the nomination that placed the individual at risk of serious physical injury or death.

Law enforcement agency heads looking to recognize an officer must submit a nomination between December 15, 2014 and February 15, 2015. The officer’s act of bravery must have occurred between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2014. You can enter a nomination here.

Barbara A. Schwartz has dedicated her life to supporting the brave officers of law enforcement.

Schwartz is certified as a first responder peer supporter by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) and the Law Enforcement Alliance for Peer Support (LEAPS). She maintains specializations in grief, injured officer support, suicide prevention, and traumatic stress injuries.

As a Police Explorer scout and reserve officer, Schwartz served in patrol and investigations. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in American Police Beat, The Thin Blue Line, Command, The Tactical Edge, Crisis Negotiator Journal, Badge & Gun, The Harris County Star, The Blues, The Shield, The Police News, and Calibre Press Newsline.

Schwartz was instrumental in securing the passage of the Blue Alert legislation in all 50 states. She is proud to be a founding member of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Foundation.

She maintains memberships in the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).