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Columns : The Federal Voice

Misguided Legislation

Reforms of disability and survivor benefits place heroically injured federal officers at risk.

January 23, 2013  |  by Jon Adler

Photo courtesy of Jon Adler.
Photo courtesy of Jon Adler.

Former Navy SEAL Donald Tyson served as a federal air marshal when he contracted bacterial endocarditis overseas. That condition necessitated his having four open-heart surgeries and two separate aortic valve replacements. As a result, he has been on disability. So how do our legislators in Congress recognize and praise Tyson for his heroic service to our nation? They have threatened to change the law and drastically reduce his disability benefits.

Donald Tyson is now permanently disabled. And he is facing severe and unwarranted reductions to his Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) benefits should Title III of S. 1789, the "21st Century Postal Service Act," become law. The proposed reductions to benefits are unnecessary, unwarranted, and a disservice to American heroes like Don Tyson.

Tyson and other federal heroes should not have to endure the extreme financial and emotional stress that would accompany a reduction in their benefits. Even if these heroic men and women were somehow exempt from the benefit cuts of Title III, there are still countless other currently injured or future federal law enforcement officers and veterans who would not be so lucky.

It is for these reasons that FLEOA remains adamantly opposed to the misguided reforms of FECA included in Title III. While FLEOA does not disagree with the need to reform either the U.S. Postal Service or FECA, attempting to do both in rapid fashion will cause unintended consequences for American heroes.

As FLEOA has noted in the past to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and others, we have serious concerns about the impact that Title III would have on injured law enforcement officers currently in the FECA system and the families of the fallen left behind. Title III's reduction of FECA benefits for injured federal law enforcement officers once they reach retirement age, the phase out of augmentation payments for law enforcement officers with dependents, and cuts to survivor benefits are disappointing and misguided. Sen. Collins' desire to make swift and ill-conceived changes to the FECA system as proposed in S. 1789 undermines the government's obligation to honor its commitment to those federal law enforcement officers who have sacrificed their bodies, themselves, and in many cases their lives in the service of this nation.

Over the past five years, we have attempted to work with congressional staff and others to institute true reforms of FECA, the Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP), and the federal disability system. We have done so because we agree that FECA is in need of systemic reforms, as it was not designed to handle the unique federal law enforcement injuries that occur at the hands of criminals, terrorists, and organized crime syndicates. We have advocated for reforms that would honor those injured federal law enforcement officers' sacrifices with a better OWCP support structure to allow them to heal and return to work, which 98% do. And we have argued for a system that ensures that those who "gave all" and are either permanently disabled or have left behind families receive a simplified and rightful compensation under FECA or a federal disability retirement. The proposed Title III reforms do none of these things.

Instead, as noted in two reports from the GAO this month, Title III of S. 1789 would reduce benefits for disabling injuries far below what federal employees would have received had they been able to work a full career. The GAO also found that any proposal to reduce and equalize FECA compensation would have a disproportionate impact on those beneficiaries with dependents.

These findings and others raise serious questions about the overall impact of S. 1789 on injured law enforcement officers and their families. It also shows that Title III should be reconsidered.

We strongly urge all members of Congress to oppose Title III in Senate bill 1789 or replace the current content with the text of H.R. 2465, the "Federal Workers' Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act," which passed the House last November by a unanimous voice vote. This legislation is a sensible compromise that will streamline the claims process for workers who sustain a traumatic injury in a designated zone of armed conflict, expand the Labor Department's ability to collect from third parties, combat fraud, and promote greater accountability in the program.

Our retired law enforcement and military veterans should be revered and not thrown under the reckless congressional bus of misguided intentions. No one is asking for a hand-out, but we are respectfully asking that Congress not sever our injured heroes' life support.

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