The Justice Department has ruled that the suicide of Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood, who killed himself days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, died in the line of duty, according to his family and authorities.
The designation from the Justice Department's Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program (PSOB) guarantees benefits to Liebengood's wife, The New York Times reported.
The approval of benefits was the first such designation for an officer who died in connection with the Capitol attack.
The designation does not affect whether relatives can access the officer's pension benefits overseen by the Labor Department, The Washington Post reported.
In August, Congress approved bipartisan legislation that would extend the PSOB to officers who die by suicide or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a distressing event on the job.
The law came after four police officers who responded to the Jan. 6 attack died by suicide. Other officers sustained severe emotional scars.
"The determination is significant, healing, relieving, and we are grateful for it," Liebengood's family said in a statement, the Times reported. "We hope the changes to the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program, which allowed Howie to receive this designation, will serve as a model for other entities that offer similar benefits and recognition.
"This is an important step in a longer effort to change outdated processes and attitudes."
The new law directed PSOB to presume that suicides by officers after traumatic events while on duty are the result those on-the-job duties. It also created a new avenue for officers to seek disability benefits for PTSD suffered after 2018.
A Capitol Police spokesman said the agency was pleased with the DOJ's decision.
"Suicide has become an epidemic in the law enforcement profession," the spokesman said in a statement, the Post reported. "We will continue to work with the Liebengood family to address this important issue."
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Liebengood "was often one of the very first people I saw at the Capitol every day, and was well known to my entire staff."
"It was clear that being a U.S. Capitol Police officer was more than a job to him — he was a man who dedicated his life to serving others and spent 15 years defending the halls of democracy," said Kaine, Liebengood's home-state senator, the Times reported.
"His death in the wake of the horrors of the Jan. 6 insurrection was a heartbreaking loss for his family and for every American who believes in the promise of our democratic institutions."
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