Officer John Barnes Act

When I became a police officer in 1995, I did not ask what would happen if I were injured or killed in the line of duty.  I was aware that there were provisions for the families of officers who were killed in the line of duty. In that same line of thinking, I thought surely there were provisions for officers who were disabled in the line of duty to a degree that they could not return to work as a police officer. Although I was concerned, I continued my career as a police officer, not questioning or asking “what if”.  As it turned out, when I went to work for Santa Fe ISD Police Department in 2018, not asking questions about disability provisions was a mistake.  After I received a catastrophic injury in the line of duty at the Santa Fe High School shooting in May of 2018, I discovered that I would not be eligible for a disability pension because I had not worked there for at least 10 years. 101039

Seeking more information about resources for officers injured in the line of duty, I heard about the Public Officers Safety Benefit, POSB, and applied for that. Once I started the process, I thought it might take a year or two or maybe even three to receive an answer from the POSB. I would have never imagined that 6 years after the Santa Fe HS shooting, I would still be waiting for an answer as to whether or not I am eligible for this benefit.

The POSB was created in 1976 to provide a onetime financial benefit to the families of first responders killed in the line of duty.  In 1990, the program expanded to include those first responders who suffered catastrophic injuries in the line of duty.  According to the Fact Sheet from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, more than 1,200 claims are submitted yearly to the POSB. As of May 10, 2024, there are 1,432 pending claims, including appeals. A separate report dated November of 2023, shows claims pending as long as 2,711 days. My case is not on appeal because I have not been given an answer to my initial claim. I cannot imagine how long it will take should there be need for an appeal when I have already been waiting 6 years.

Because of the delay in receiving a response, I contacted my congressmen about 6 months ago and informed them of the situation. They began sending requests to the POSB on my behalf, asking for a timeline as to when I could expect a response. Even going through my congressmen, POSB would not give me a timeline.  Soon after that, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber put me in touch with the people who propose bills. Sen. Ted Cruz’s office followed suit proposing the “Officer John Barnes Act”.

The “Officer John Barnes Act” sets a 270-day deadline for claims made to the POSB to be decided.  This act will affect every police officer who is killed or disabled in the line of duty.

I am eternally grateful for all the support my family and I received after the school shooting.  Everyone I spoke with following the shooting told me to let them know if I needed anything. Well, now I do.  Please write or email your congressmen in support of the “Officer John Barnes Act”.  Ask every officer and person you know to do the same so this bill will get passed.  We all know how this works… if people do not show strong support for this bill, it will not pass.

My hope is that you or your family will never need the POSB.  But should you need it, the passing of this bill is your chance to affect your outcome. In a time when the public expects immediate and timely action from first responders, the POSB should show their respect by doing the same.

Contact sources:

U.S. Representative Randy Weber

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

 

Published July 8, 2024

Author John Barnes, Retired HPD SPO