Widow of D.C. police officer who died by suicide after Jan. 6 praises Senate action to extend benefits

Erin Smith fought for months for death benefits following the suicide of her husband, a DC Metropolitan Police officer, nine days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. In an interview with CBS News, she said she initially doubted the law would pass, struggling for more than a year to designate her suicide as a line-of-duty death in the District of Columbia.

“I tried to put my hopes in the right place, if you will. And after it was approved last night, I was just overjoyed,” she said. “Obviously, it’s going to help a lot of people. It’s not just me, but other people who have gone through this.”

After the bill passed on Monday, Erin Smith was “thrilled” that these officers and their families would receive “the recognition they’re going to get from the federal government.”

Legislated families of public safety officials who died by suicide to collect death benefits were approved Monday by the Senate, part of a larger effort to recognize the emotional effects of traumatic events on first responders nationwide. This measure was passed unanimously.

Erin Smith’s husband, Jeffrey Smith, was a 12-year veteran of the DC Metropolitan Police Department. Responding to the hordes of rioters who broke down the Capitol, he was the target of several attacks on 6 January.

“He went in with that one personality and came home with a different person,” Smith said. “He just didn’t want to be with or be around anyone. He kept to himself and was really fighting for justice to, you know, understand what happened that day, his injuries, and finally we know the end. ”

Like many parts of the country, Washington, D.C., where Jeff Smith served, suicide was not considered a duty death, which left Erin Smith without health insurance and income after her husband’s death. in March, District of Columbia Recognized That the injury suffered by her husband in the performance of his duties on January 6, 2021 was the “sole and direct cause” of his death.

Jeff Smith was one of four law enforcement officers who responded to the January 6 attack that committed suicide within seven months of the rebellion. Over 140 officers with the Capital Police and Metropolitan Police Department were injured In the Capitol riot, according to the US Capitol Police Labor Committee.

The bill was introduced by Reps David Tron, Democrat of Maryland, and Guy Reichenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania and Sens Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. The law expands the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program to provide coverage for officers who die by suicide or become permanently disabled due to traumatic service-related experiences.

Currently, the program only covers bodily injuries, but the new law will allow public safety officials to receive disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder tied to severe trauma. Families of law enforcement and first responders who died by suicide now have the right to receive death benefits, as suicide is recognized as a line-of-duty death.

For Erin Smith, this recognition brings a sense of “peace.”

“Firefighters, EMS, police, anyone who is considered a first responder, their families will benefit from it, as long as they meet one of three criteria,” she explained.

Erin Smith is now petitioning to have her husband’s name added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., and to see that he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to US Capitol Police Officer Brian Siknick, whose Died in a day due to natural causes. After defending the Capitol. had a picnic laid to rest in February 2021.

The House passed the bill in May with only 17 Republican lawmakers with overwhelming bipartisan support. vote against This.

The law now goes to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

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