Inspired by the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot's mental health toll on first responders, the U.S. Senate passed a bill Monday that creates a pathway for families of officers who die by suicide to access death benefits. The unanimous passage of the Public Safety Officer Support Act means it heads to President Biden’s desk, after advocacy by the partners of multiple officers on duty at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 assault and died by suicide in the aftermath, the Washington Post reports. The bill amends the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to make it easier for officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder linked to their work to access disability benefits. “Our law enforcement officers serve on the front lines of events that can inflict severe emotional trauma — from mass shootings to protecting the United States Capitol during a violent insurrection,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), whose district includes the family of Washington, D.C., police officer Jeffrey Smith, who died by suicide after the riot. The officers suffering work-related PTSD should have the “same benefits as those suffering from a physical injury,” Beyer said.
Because officer suicides have long not been considered to be “in the line of duty,” the families of some of those officers — including Smith and Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood — spent months pressing local and federal officials to honor the officers in the same way as any others who die in the line of duty. Their public advocacy sparked a broader national discussion about mental health within law enforcement, and the Capitol Police created a new mental wellness center in Liebengood’s name. Erin Smith, Jeffrey Smith’s widow, had long said that injuries her husband sustained during the attack — he was hit over the head with a crowbar-like object — had a direct nexus to his suicide days later. In March of this year, the D.C. retirement board finally agreed to consider Smith’s death in the line of duty and extend benefits.