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Image of the Virginia AG Seal

Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING TAKES ACTION TO PROTECT FIRST RESPONDERS DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

RICHMOND (May 22, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general urging Congress to pass the Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act. The Act would permit the families of first responders, who die or are permanently and totally disabled as a result of COVID-19, to receive the same federal benefits extended to first responders, or their survivors, otherwise killed or injured in the line of duty. Sadly, many law enforcement officers have already succumbed to the novel coronavirus. Current federal law would only allow survivors access to certain benefits if evidence is provided proving the deceased or permanently disabled first responder contracted COVID-19 while on duty.

 

Additionally, today Attorney General Herring issued an official advisory opinion stating that first responders who contract COVID-19 from exposure while at work may be compensated under the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Act. As the attorney general says: “It is my opinion that workers’ compensation is available for covered first responders who become ill from work-related exposures.” He also concludes that first responders who die from exposure to COVID-19 while in the line of duty could qualify for Line of Duty Act benefits “if they meet eligibility criteria.”

 

The nature of COVID-19 presents unique challenges in showing that a first responder contracted the infection on the job, making the creation of a presumption even more important. The SAFR Act that Attorney General Herring supports would create a temporary presumption for first responders in federal law, and his opinion outlines how such a presumption could be created in Virginia, most notably through an act of the legislature, as was done following the 9/11 Attacks to ensure first responders were covered.

 

“In the middle of a deadly pandemic, our first responders do not have the luxury of staying home and out of harm’s way. Instead they continue to respond to emergencies, oftentimes with the high risk of walking into a contaminated area and potentially contracting COVID-19,” said Attorney General Herring. “These brave men and women have put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Virginians and they deserve to receive the same benefits as other first responders who have been killed, injured or become disabled in the line of duty.”

 

In a letter sent to Congress today, Attorney General Herring and 51 other state attorneys general urged quick passage of the SAFR Act. The letter states, in part, “When public safety officers are called to respond, they do not know whether they are coming into contact with a person who is positive for COVID-19. We have seen harrowing stories about how public safety officers have taken heroic actions to save the lives of others, knowing that they risked infection in doing so.”

 

The SAFR Act would establish a temporary presumption that officers contracted COVID-19 while on duty if diagnosed within 45 days of a first responder’s last shift. The legislation ensures families of officers and first responders lost while fighting the pandemic do not face unnecessary barriers to benefits already promised under existing federal law.

 

This legislation, co-sponsored by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, recently passed the U.S. Senate and is currently being considered by the House of Representatives.

 

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