Monday, March 4, 2013

What Is A Line Of Duty Death?

I've been in correspondence with Eric Johnson, who founded and he sent me a column he wrote on what constitutes a LODD. It is one of the best explanations of the topic I've seen, and Eric has generously allowed me to share it with my readers. It's clear, concise and should be required reading for everyone who may be involved in planning a public safety funeral.


LODD or Not LODD? That is the Question…

by Eric Johnson

One of the most misunderstood and misapplied terms regarding Line of Duty Death is the term itself. Many assume if a person dies while on‐duty or circumstances of an off‐duty death appear to be work-related, it is a “line of duty death.”

Along with this assumption comes a belief the family will receive state, federal, and other Line of Duty Death (LODD) related benefits. Unfortunately, such oversimplification often results in families being promised significant benefits they have little or no chance of receiving.

It is one thing for a claim to be denied after careful review pursuant to the benefit’s specific provisions and regulations. It is another for a family to learn after months of anticipation the circumstances do not even come close to qualifying and promises were made without foundation. While the former is upsetting, the latter can be devastating and even perceived as betrayal. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of examples of this occurring.

For this and many other reasons, it is important for public safety personnel at all levels to have realistic understanding of what “line of duty” really means as it relates to death. If the question is posed to the head of an agency as to whether LODD honors will be rendered following a member’s death, the decision is often made according to a very general interpretation of the term. As most agencies do not have formal guidelines defining Line of Duty Death, the determination is often made on the basis of wanting to “do something nice for the family” (i.e., rendering formal LODD honors) and is heavily influenced by emotion.

But if the question is whether the particular circumstances of a death qualify for specific LODD benefits, such as the federal government’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) or a state’s benefits, it is a much different matter. Each has clear guidelines as to what circumstances are covered and what are not. Therefore, the real question in this regard is not whether a death is “line of duty,” but: “Does it qualify for this benefit?”

It should be recognized that at the foundation of all LODD benefits is the issue of whether death
occurred as a result of duty, not that it simply occurred in the course of duty. There is a huge difference. It is a critical distinction that must be made, and it is the initial standard all should apply when making an assessment of LODD versus non‐LODD.

When death occurs in the course of duty, it is the result of a condition or circumstance that would have led to the individual’s death whether he/she was on‐duty or not. But when a death is truly “line of duty,” it means that individual’s life was cut short as a direct result of his/her service. THAT is sacrifice, and it is why LODD honors are what they are: ultimate honors for those who make the ultimate sacrifice. It is also why LODD benefits were established: to further honor those who make the ultimate sacrifice by caring for those they are no longer able to care for personally.

When an active or retired public safety officer dies, he/she deserves to be honored for his/her service. But when one dies as a direct result of duty, he/she deserves to be honored for both service AND sacrifice. Again, the difference is huge.

When a family is told they will receive “line of duty death benefits” in circumstances clearly not eligible, a terrible disservice is done. It would be difficult to overstate how hurtful this can be. In very simple terms, it adds substantial and devastating insult to already overwhelming and devastating injury.

Similarly, when LODD honors are rendered or a name is added to a LODD memorial when a death did not occur as a result of duty, it is also a disservice – but, in this instance, it is a disservice to many. Not only does it set the family up for possible embarrassment later, but it dilutes the significance of the honors and the memorial.

It is incumbent on ALL public safety personnel to protect surviving families from the hurt that inevitably follows such false promises. It is also incumbent on all to protect the integrity of Line of Duty Death honors and memorials.

The purpose of this column is to facilitate better understanding of what constitutes Line of Duty Death as well as provisions of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act and associated regulations. Our hope is leaders will use this information to develop or refine their agency’s guidelines regarding Line of Duty Death and all will become better prepared to assist, inform, and advise families in the wake of tragedy.