View Full Version : U.S. Issues First Responders get Screwed by Bush Administration

09-11-2008, 04:03 PM
This story is a good one for 9-11.

Mike McGraw is a Pulitzer Prize winning investiagive journalist for the KC Star (and is one of my best friends brother...super nice guy)

This story is saddening. Classic example of Bushco not putting their money where their mouth is. Sure, thank a first responder or thank our men in uniform.

Then cut their benefits. Maddening, but as Walter Cronkite said "That's the way it is." Here's the story from the Star:

Benefits for ‘Hometown Heroes’ come up short

The Kansas City Star

Emergency workers honored in the wake of 9/11 may find it harder to collect benefits for on-the-job deaths and injuries under new rules proposed by the Bush administration.

Since the terrorist attacks seven years ago today, Washington lawmakers have lavished praise on “hometown heroes” such as police, firefighters and other emergency workers. New legislation promised to pay higher disability and death benefits to their families—whether police or firefighters died during terrorist attacks or other line-of-duty work.

But what’s known as the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program has seldom lived up to those promises, critics say. And the proposed rules changes could perpetuate the problems, according to groups representing the survivors of emergency workers.

“The question we keep asking is, ‘Why now?’ ” said Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Maryland. “We don’t usually see a major rewrite of programs at the end of an administration. We are concerned this is being rushed through.”

Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, who administer the program, say the proposed rules changes are meant to streamline the process, correct problems revealed in recent court battles, and clean up “syntax” issues in the regulations.

But police and fire groups contend the proposed rules actually redefine the circumstances under which benefits can be paid and could actually restrict payments for deaths that occur during “nonmandatory” training exercises and in cases where officers who die of heart attacks had “pre-existing” conditions.

The groups also argue that the proposed rules could make an already-complicated application process even more cumbersome and frustrating for grieving families.

Indeed, the changes could deny up to $300,000 in death benefits to the survivors of firefighters such as Terrance D. Crockett of Kansas City, who died of a heart attack last March while battling a residential arson fire.

The circumstances of Crockett’s death should make his family eligible for benefits, said Bill Webb, executive director of the nonpartisan Congressional Fire Services Institute in Washington.

But Webb fears that a strict interpretation of new wording about pre-existing conditions could affect Crockett’s claim. Crockett, 48, had a history of high blood pressure and heart disease.

“We have some serious concerns about what they (the proposed rules) would do to the program and to claims from survivors,” Webb said.

Kansas City Fire Chief Smokey Dyer does not foresee a problem with Crockett’s claim, but added if it’s denied, “then to me the benefit has effectively been eliminated.”

Evan Peterson, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to respond to specific criticisms that have surfaced as part of the rulemaking process.

But Peterson did say “we value the input of interested stakeholders in this process and look forward to considering all input received during the public comment period to ensure that we have the best regulation possible.”

Peterson did not know when the new rules might take effect.

Some of the groups that commented on the proposed changes maintained they were too liberal.

“Grieving families should not have to fight for these benefits,” said Suzie Sawyer, executive director of the Missouri-based Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), which represents 15,000 families that have lost officers.

“Some family members have called their office as many as 20 times and gotten a recording, but never a return call,” Sawyer complained.

The benefits program, which began in the late 1970s, has been under fire in recent months:

• In a decision handed down last year, a federal judge ruled that in denying benefits to Glen Winuk, a volunteer firefighter who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, the program’s director failed to follow the law.

The judge ruled in Winuk’s favor noting, as have other courts, that Congress meant for the program to be “remedial in nature and thus should not be applied grudgingly, but rather should be construed liberally…”

• Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General released a 65-page audit critical of some post-Sept. 11 provisions in the program—called the Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act—which expanded benefits to those who die from on-duty heart attacks or strokes.

• Investigators found that some families were improperly denied benefits because the government decided the workers were not responding to emergencies when they died.

• The audit also found that payments to hundreds of families were held up for months or even years because of delays in writing regulations and because of overly restrictive interpretations of the law.

Under the Hometown Heroes provisions alone, the Justice Department processed 307 claims through July 2008. It approved 152 claims, denied 91 and took no action on 64. Thirteen of the 37 cases that were appealed were later approved.

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a North Carolina Democrat who introduced the Hometown Heroes Act, argued in a recent letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey that the proposed changes could “unintentionally limit eligibility.”

Etheridge urged Mukasey to review the proposals “to ensure that the intent of Congress is preserved: to honor the service of public safety officers who fall in the line of duty with a presumptive benefit for their families that can be awarded with as little delay and bureaucratic burden as possible.”

Etheridge is particularly concerned about proposals that could deny benefits to workers who die during nonmandatory training activities or while traveling to or from an emergency.

In his letter, Etheridge also noted that the nation had made a promise to police officers, firefighters and emergency medical agencies, and “we must fulfill that promise to them and their families.”

To reach Mike McGraw, call 816-234-4423 or send e-mail to mcgraw@kcstar.com.

09-11-2008, 05:21 PM
Sadly this is consistent with how Bush/Cheney treat our veterans, and what we can expect more of if McCain is elected for Bush's third term

09-11-2008, 06:01 PM
Sadly this is consistent with how Bush/Cheney treat our veterans, and what we can expect more of if McCain is elected for Bush's third term

I still think penchief has stolen your login id.