An internal Justice Department investigation released Tuesday confirmed that the agency was tardy in getting financial benefits to survivors of firefighters and law enforcement officers who died from work-related stress.
The investigation was conducted in part in response to requests from U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, who wrote the legislation requiring such survival benefits for first responders who died of heart attack or stroke related to their service.
The Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act passed Congress overwhelmingly and was signed into law by President Bush. But Etheridge, survivors and firefighter organizations complained repeatedly that the Justice Department had dragged its feet on implementing the benefits.
The 103-page report, by the agency's inspector general, confirmed that the department took nearly three years to write rules to implement the new law. Then, claims were delayed for several reasons. Among them:
- There were no standards on the timeliness of internal reviews.
- Claims often were filed without necessary documentation, requiring follow-up with applicants.
- The agency sometimes requested additional documentation that wasn't necessary.Etheridge encouraged any survivor who thought his or her claim was improperly denied to seek an appeal.