BENNINGTON — Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Thursday that progress had been made on passing the Dale Long Act, which would benefit emergency medical technicians and is named after a Bennington EMT who died on duty in June 2009.
“First responders are flesh-and-blood lifelines to all of us, in every community across the nation. From the firefighters in Vermont who race to the scene of a rural fire during a cold winter night, to the ambulance crews bringing emergency medical help when tragedy or disaster strike, first responders lay their lives on the line through their sense of duty, their skill and their selflessness. We count on them, and they need to be able to count on us,” Leahy said in a news release.
Leahy won Senate approval on Wednesday night to add the act to the pending defense authorization bill. The Senate vote on Leahy’s amendment was 85 to 11.
The other members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, also support the legislation.
The Dale Long Act is designed to strengthen and improve a federal program that provides a safety net for the families of first responders who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.
The legislation is Leahy’s most recent effort to remedy what he believes are gaps in the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act, or PSOB, that have left some first responders, or their survivors, without benefits when they are injured or killed in the line of duty.
The PSOB was first enacted in 1976, providing benefits for certain public safety officers, or their survivors, who die or are disabled as a direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty. But existing law excludes certain classes of safety officers and trainees.
The Leahy-authored legislation includes a provision to extend the federal PSOB program to paramedics and emergency medical technicians who work or volunteer for nonprofit ambulance services, and their families.
Leahy first introduced the Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Providers Protection Act in June 2009. The bill would qualify an estimated 1,200 Vermont EMS personnel for the PSOB program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, for which Leahy serves as chairman, considered the legislation in 2010 and reported it to the Senate, but further action on the legislation stalled due to a single Republican senator’s objection. Adding the bill Wednesday during the lame duck legislative session to the must-pass defense bill is Leahy’s latest effort to get past the obstacles.
“Now that this bill is on a track for passage, it is time for the obstruction to end so that these overdue reforms can finally begin helping first responders and their families. Each day that passes is another day that Mr. Long’s family, and others who would benefit from this legislation, must live without the help they need and deserve,” Leahy said.
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved counterpart legislation in June.
The Leahy bill includes provisions to lessen the length of a currently unwieldy appeals process for claimants, clarify the list of eligible survivor beneficiaries, and make those who have been catastrophically injured eligible for peer support and counseling programs.
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