Law extends benefits for families of fallen first responders

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AUSTIN, Texas - First responders have some of the most stressful and dangerous jobs. Whenever they answer a call, they put their lives on the line along with their families, who face an uncertain future should they die in the line of duty.

"You don't go to work expecting not to come home,” said Etta Moore, executive director of the 100 Club of Central Texas. “But the first responders who are out there, part of their job is putting their lives on the line to protect others."

When a police officer, firefighter or paramedic dies, the community loses a hero. But their families lose so much more.

"If you're worried about how you are going to pay the bills, then you're not able to really celebrate the life of your loved one,” Moore added. "We've seen them have to move out of their homes."

They likely won't have to worry about that now that a new law has taken effect, which expands workers compensation death benefits for emergency personnel's loved ones. Now, a fallen responder's spouse can receive worker's comp benefits for the rest of their life, instead of only a few months. If they decide to remarry later on, they'll still be covered.

"We were happy to support it. We don't want to see someone penalized by the fact that they might achieve some personal happiness or stability,” said Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas’ Charley Wilkinson. "The loss of the spouse, regardless of your marital status, is forever."

"It's only for in the line of duty death,” he added. “It has to be proven by the department. The agency has to say, 'this is a line of duty death.'"

Supporters say it took decades to get to this point, but they're glad it did.

"The state's finally doing what it should by taking care of some of the aftermath of first responder issues," Wilkinson said.

"They are out there putting their life on the line every day for us,” Moore stressed. “This is a little something that we can do for them."

The new law doesn't apply to a fallen responder's spouse if they remarried before it went into effect.

So far in 2017, nine Texas police officers and three firefighters have died while on duty.