When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes to the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program at the 25th Annual Candlelight Vigil Monday night, he reminded those in attendance of a promise he made exactly one year ago.
"Last year, I pledged before this audience that even though these problems did not originate with this administration, they will end with it," he told the close to 20,000 people at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. "I indicated that it is time to bring about fundamental changes."
The PSOB program -- administered by the Department of Justice -- awards death benefits to survivors of law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS personnel killed in the line of duty.
Holder said that the department's Office of Justice Programs has made a series of significant improvements to the program, including a new case management system, lessening the number of documents required and efforts to streamline the process.
"We will expedite the claim process with a new electronic case management system that allows families to check the status of their claims online wherever they are. We will reduce the burden on them by requiring only the documents that are truly necessary to support a claim. We will streamline the process further by bringing all of the PSOB functions, including legal, under one roof," he said.
"Finally, we'll ensure transparency and build an ongoing dialogue with those who need and deserve our assistance through regular consultation and meetings with our partners in field."
The changes are meant to ensure that the families of fallen officers receive their benefits in a timely manner.
"Quite simply, the era of red tape to this vital program is over," Holder said. "This is an indication of the value the justice department and our entire country places on our fallen officers."
Holder, whose brother is a retired officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said he holds a high respect for the jobs done by law enforcement officers.
"I have always been extremely grateful for the contributions that these courageous men and women make every day," he said. "As we saw last month in Boston -- and as all of you continue to prove -- their work has an immeasurable impact on our ability to combat terrorism, violent crime, fraud, abuse and threats to the most vulnerable members of our society."
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