Nine days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, her husband, a Washington Metropolitan police officer, died by suicide, and Erin Smith fought for months for a death benefit. In an interview with CBS News, she said she was initially skeptical that the legislation would pass, having fought for more than a year to designate his suicide as the death of a public official in the District of Columbia.
“I’m trying to keep my hopes in the right space, if you will. Once it was approved last night, I was overwhelmed,” she said. “Obviously this will help a lot of people. Not just me, but others who have been through it.”
After the bill was passed on Monday, Erin Smith was “thrilled” that the officials and their families “will receive the recognition they deserve from the federal government.”
Legislation to qualify the families of public safety officials who killed themselves seeking death benefits passed the Senate on Monday, part of a larger effort to recognize the emotional impact of traumatic events on first responders across the country. The measure was passed unanimously.
Erin Smith’s husband, Jeffrey Smith, worked for the DC Metropolitan Police for 12 years. He was targeted in several attacks on January 6 after responding to a mob who broke into the Capitol.
“He left with that personality and came home with a different personality,” Smith said. “He just didn’t want to be with anyone and he didn’t want to be with anyone. He’s been trying, you know, to understand what happened that day, his injury, and finally we know the end.”
Like many parts of the country, Washington, D.C., where Jeff Smith serves, does not consider suicide a death-of-duty, leaving Erin Smith without health insurance and income after her husband’s death. March,Her husband’s injury on January 6, 2021 in the line of duty was the “sole immediate cause” of his death.
Jeff Smith was one of four law enforcement officers responding to the Jan. 6 attack who committed suicide within seven months of the uprising.Over 140 officers from the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police was injured In Congressional Riots, according to the U.S. Congressional Police Labor Committee.
The bill is led by Rep. David Troone, D-Maryland, Rep. Guy Resenthaler, R-Pennsylvania, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, and Rep. John Duckworth, R-Texas Cornyn proposed. The legislation expands the public safety officer benefit program to provide coverage for officers who commit suicide or become permanently disabled as a result of a traumatic service-related experience.
Currently, the program only covers physical injuries, but the new legislation will allow public safety officials to seek disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder associated with severe trauma. Families of law enforcement officers and first responders who died by suicide are now entitled to seek death benefits because suicide is considered a duty death.
For Erin Smith, this recognition brings a sense of “peace.”
“As long as one of the three criteria is met, firefighters, EMS, police, anyone who is considered a first responder, their families will benefit,” she explained.
Erin Smith is now petitioning to have her husband’s name added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., and wants to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to U.S. Capitol police officer Brian Sinick, who died one day of natural causes After defending the Capitol.Sinic isFebruary 2021.
The House passed the bill with overwhelming bipartisan support in May, with just 17 Republicans vote against it.
The bill is now on President Biden’s desk for his signature.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For more information on mental health care resources and supports, please call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10am-6pm ET, or email info@contact National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline Nano.org.