Workforce

New bill looks to close retirement loophole for injured federal first responders

Fire fighters crossing charred terrain, Los Angeles Padres National Forest, California shutterstock  photo ID: 177444584 By Joseph Sohm 

Firefighters in Los Padres National Forest. (Image credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com)

A bipartisan bill introduced in the House and Senate would change the retirement classification of injured federal first responders who return to work in a different type of federal position.

Currently, when a federal first responder who's been injured on the job returns to federal service in a different type of position, they lose their early retirement benefits. Lawmakers who introduced the bill say that it would ensure that this doesn't happen.

The bill, called the First Responder Fair RETIRE Act, would allow federal first responders who are injured on the job and can't return to service before full retirement to stay in the retirement system while working in a different civil service position.

If passed, it would impact the retirement set-up for federal firefighters, law enforcement officials, Border Patrol officers and other federal first responders.

Currently, federal first responders in "6c" positions have an accelerated retirement system and mandatory retirement at 57. They pay at a greater percentage of their salary towards their retirement, and they're eligible for an annuity when they reach the age of 50 and have served for 20 years.

The bill would allow injured public safety offices to keep that 6c status in a different federal government position if they're injured on duty, enabling them to still retire after 20 years. It would also qualify them for a payment of the benefits owed from their retirement funds if they're separated from service before becoming eligible for an annuity.

"We have a responsibility to uphold our promise to those that are injured on the job and ensure their first responders' benefits are fully protected. They shouldn't be penalized, especially when they are still committed to public service," said Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, in a statement about the bill.

Reps Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) also joined Connolly in introducing the bill in the House.

"Our federal firefighters and federal law enforcement officers, especially those injured on the job, should not be penalized and deprived of the retirement security they have earned," said Fitzpatrick. "Our federal first responders deserve our full support for their public service."

In the Senate, Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Several federal first responders groups, including the National Federation of Federal Employees, have endorsed the bill.

"The current federal retirement system penalizes law enforcement officers for injuries sustained on the job," the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Larry Cosme, said in a statement. "That is why this legislation is so important."

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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