The Justice Department has determined that a police officer who committed suicide eight days after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, died in the line of duty, thereby granting his wife the federal benefits that are ordinarily granted to the families of fallen officers.
Until now, families of officers who committed suicide on purpose were not eligible for these benefits.
However, this new ruling, which follows the most recent revisions to the Public Safety Officer Support Act by President Joe Biden, will allow certain suicides to qualify as deaths in the line of duty.
The revised legislation passed almost a year ago expanded disability and education benefits and now requires the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) to “presume” that suicides are a result of job duties if there is evidence of a physical injury that could lead to emotional trauma.
The new Public Safety Officer Support Act in the US will allow public safety officers to seek disability benefits for PTSD linked to severe trauma to designate work-related PTSD & acute stress disorders as a line of duty injury. It recognizes the emotional toll on 1st responders
— TJ Kennedy (@TJPublicSafety) September 17, 2022
Her counsel informed The Hill that Erin Smith, the widow of Metropolitan police officer Jeffrey Smith, was the first to be considered under the new law.
On January 6, 2021, Officer Smith was one of many who served at the United States Capitol. According to NBC News, he was involved in at least two altercations that day.
In one instance, he fought with protesters as he ejected them from the Capitol building. In another, a hurtling metal pole struck him in the face.
David Walls-Kaufman, one of the combatants, acknowledged placing his palm on Smith’s baton during the altercation. According to NBC, he was sentenced to two months in federal detention. The authorities have yet to determine who hurled the metal stake.
On January 15, eight days after the Capitol invasion, Smith shot himself in his automobile while driving to work.
As Smith had no documented history of depression, his wife believes that the injuries he sustained at the Capitol “clearly caused his death.”
“When my husband died, I was denied the line of duty benefits that he deserved,” she told NBC in a statement. “But I knew from the beginning that Jeffrey died in the line of duty from the injuries he suffered on January 6th.”
Erin Smith, the widow of a D.C. police officer who took his own life days after reporting to the Capitol on January 6, says “he was never the same” after the insurrection.
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) March 30, 2022
Due to the Justice Department’s ruling, she is now eligible for federal benefits, including a $370,000 compensation for the families of deceased officers.
“It is an honor to inform you that the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Office has approved your claim for death benefits,” Hope D. Janke, the director of the Justice Department’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Office, wrote in a letter to Erin Smith announcing their decision.
“The entire PSOB Office staff extends our condolences to you and your family, and our gratitude for Officer Smith’s public safety efforts and commitment to his community,” the letter read, according to NBC.
In addition, Erin Smith receives 100 percent of her husband’s pension, as determined by the D.C. Police and Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Board last year.