OPEA: Helping Our Hometown Heros

Taking care of one of our own is how OPEA’s Executive Director Sterling Zearley characterized the Association’s recent involvement with DOC Director Justin Jones in requesting the Department of Justice extend Hometown Hero benefits to the family of fallen Correctional Officer Ralph Marley of the Mack Alford Correctional Center. Marley died of an apparent heart attack while attending training at the DOC Academy in Wilburton.

The Hometown Heroes bill extends the current Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to those who die as a result of a heart attack or stroke within 24 hours of being on duty, responding to an emergency or participating in a training exercise. Heart attacks and strokes represent a significant risk among public safety officers, accounting for nearly half of public safety deaths each year.

The PSOB program currently provides financial assistance to families of public safety officers killed in the line of duty, as well as to officers permanently disabled while on the job. The death benefit is payable to the survivors of a public safety officer who has died as the direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty.

However, in almost every incidence of death by heart attack or stroke, it’s ruled that the heart attack or stroke was not a direct result of an injury sustained in the line of duty and the family receives no benefits, even though the deaths appear to be triggered by the rigors of the job.

“Heart attacks and strokes are a reality of the high-pressure jobs of corrections employees, officers, firefighters and police,” said Zearley. “These are killers that they contend with in their jobs, just like speeding bullets or sharp knives. They put their lives on the line for us, and we owe their families our gratitude, our respect and our help. No amount of money can fill the void that is left by these losses, but providing help to these families and keeping food on the table and shelter over their heads. It helps them make the transition into their new lives.”

“OPEA is glad to partner with the Department of Corrections in accessing this program,” said Zearley. “Our thoughts are with his family.”

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