As of Sept. 1, working law enforcement officers in Texas who have heart attacks off duty or on duty will be considered to have had their medical events in the line of duty and be eligible for state and federal line-of-duty benefits.
SB 1562, which was recently signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, also provides line-of-duty benefits for officers who contract tuberculosis or smallpox through on duty operations.
"Heart disease is the number one killer of cops," says cardiologist Jonathan Sheinberg, who serves with the Cedar Park (TX) Police Department as a part-time lieutenant.
Sheinberg is president and CEO of the Public Safety Cardiac Foundation (www.publicsafetyheart.org), and he says the organization has been working to pass the law for several years.
He says it's important for off-duty heart attacks of officers to be considered line-of-duty medical events because "they don't usually happen at the time of the stress (such as fighting with a suspect or during strenuous training). They happen later."
Sheinberg says there are similar laws in effect in Virginia and Massachusetts, and he hopes the enactment of the Texas law will spur legislatures in other states to grant line-of-duty status to officers who suffer off-duty heart attacks.
Under the Texas law, there are exceptions and restrictions. Officers must have been on duty for at least five years. Also, if the officer is a user of tobacco products or their spouse is a smoker or has been a smoker during the marriage, the line-of-duty status and benefits may be denied.