Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

VA Official at Claims Summit: VA’s Disability Claim System “Cannot be Fixed”

The Overburdened VA Health System that one  DBA lawyer suggested to Congress that injured Civilian Contractors  should be allowed to go to rather than making the DBA insurance companies pay for the benefits they have taken premiums for.

At Veterans for Common Sense

March 18, 2010, Washington, DC (Federal Times) – Bailing wire and bandages cannot save the veterans’ disability claims process, the Veterans Affairs Department’s chief technology officer said Thursday at a roundtable discussion about ways of cutting the growing backlog of claims and improving accuracy.

“In my judgment, it cannot be fixed,” said Peter Levin. “We need to build a new system, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”

Levin’s comments came at a meeting organized by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to toss around ideas for repairing a system that has a backlog of about 1.1 million claims awaiting decisions and an error rate on claims of 17 to 25 percent, depending on who is counting.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-Va., the veterans’ committee chairman, described the system as an “insult to veterans” who, on average, wait six months for an initial decision on benefits and who can wait for years if the decision is appealed.

“It looks like we are going backwards rather than forward,” Filner said. “No matter how much we raise the budget, no matter how many people we hire, the backlog seems to get bigger.”

“People die before their claim is adjudicated. They lose their home. Those lost their car,” Filner said.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | AIG and CNA, Defense Base Act, Veterans | , , , , , | 1 Comment

AIG sells Health Ins Unit but keeps lucrative unit bleeding the injured contractor dry

Civilian Contractors of all professions who are working US Gov Contracts Overseas should be concerned about the additional blood letting that occurs even once the wounds of war have begun to heal.  AIG and CNA will empty your bank account and often not stop until you’ve lost your home, your family, your self respect, not necessarily in that order.

The company is expected to keep Chartis, its larger property and casualty insurance company; two additional Japanese life insurers, and a handful of smaller, U.S.-based companies. They are very unlikely to be sold, according to a Treasury official.

Aig Sells Alico Health Insurance Unit to Met Life for $15.5 Billion

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — American International Group Inc. said Monday that it will sell its American Life Insurance Co. division for $15.5 billion to MetLife Inc. The government-approved deal, AIG’s second big asset sale in two weeks, will give the insurer more cash to repay the billions of bailout dollars it still owes the government.

The purchase expands MetLife’s presence in Japan and high-growth markets in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. American Life Insurance, known as Alico, operates in more than 50 countries. MetLife currently offers services in 17 countries.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | AIG and CNA, Contractor Casualties | , , , | Leave a comment

Back from Iraq, ABC Reports on Injured War Workers Battle with Insurance Giants AIG and CNA

Civilian Contractors Accuse Insurer of Continuing To ‘Delay and Deny’ Claims

AIG and CNA have ruthlessly denied medical and disability benefits to Injured Contractors causing many to lose their homes, their cars, their wives, their families, and for some their lives.

AIG and CNA do readily accept the DBA insurance premiums

See Risk Management Without the Risk

While the DBA is far from adequate the immediate problem is that AIG and CNA are refusing to pay legitimate claims in order to keep the money in their pockets no matter how many lives they ruin.

Civilian contractors who were injured or wounded while supporting American troops in Iraq continue to face long battles with insurance giant AIG for payment of their disability claims, despite Congressional inquiries and calls to reform the system that has handled tens of thousands of disability claims from employees of overseas contractors.

The injured workers, including some wounded by small-arms fire or IEDs during insurgent attacks, complain that AIG has continued to “delay and deny” their claims nearly a year after a joint investigation by ABC News, ProPublica, and the Los Angeles Times first exposed serious problems with AIG’s handling of disability claims under a government-funded insurance system. An analysis found that AIG challenged nearly half of the claims involving the most serious injuries.

“They will spend whatever it takes, or do whatever it takes, to berate, belittle and humiliate us,” said Bill Carlisle, an injured Arkansas man who drove trucks in Iraq for nearly two years.

The joint investigation last year exposed how AIG, which handles 90 percent of the contractor disability claims, engaged in a pattern of “delaying and denying” benefits to civilian workers injured in the war-zone, while it pampered executives with millions in bonuses and hundreds of thousands in spa retreats and private jets.

A ProPublica analysis of 30,000 claims found that AIG challenged 43 percent of the claims involving the most serious injuries. AIG contested more than half of the claims from contractors who said they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“People like myself who went outside the wire, we went out there without a weapon, and we come back haunted by certain things, and then we have to have the added stress of AIG doing these things or not doing things – it’s just horrible,” said Carlisle.

Carlisle says he lives in constant pain from a severe groin injury he sustained while loading his truck for a convoy mission, and that he also suffers from PTSD. He says he has tried to look for work, but cannot find a job that will accommodate his work restrictions.

Carlisle says he fell behind on car and home mortgage payments after AIG cut off his disability pay last September. He expects the bank to re-possess his car in the next few days. His home, which is now under foreclosure, is scheduled to go on the auction block next month.

“It’s just horrible. I’ve gone from having good credit to having bad credit, and now I’m one step from being homeless,” said Carlisle.

Filings with the Department of Labor (DOL), which oversees the civilian contractor insurance program, show that AIG halted Carlisle’s payments, stating that he had been released to work by doctors with no restrictions. A DOL claims examiner later found that Carlisle was still entitled to receive the benefits under the program because doctors had determined that Carlisle could not return to his job in Iraq and he established that he had been making efforts to obtain other work.

In a statement, AIG spokesman Mark Herr said the company was “committed to handling and resolving” benefit claims from injured contractors “professionally, ethically and fairly.”

“We owe all these injured contractors a debt for their service to our country,” said Herr. “They have been supporting our military in a hostile war zone, often incurring very serious injuries while engaged in that service,”

But Herr said that the claims were “exceedingly complex,” and blamed the 60-year-old law governing civilian contractor insurance, the Defense Base Act, for part of the delay in resolving the claims.” Said Herr, “Resolution under an act that is ill-suited for its purpose makes timely conclusion that much more complicated.”

The ABC News investigation found that the injured workers’ cases often took months, and sometimes years, to go through the Department of Labor’s administrative judicial process. Even when the judge ruled in favor of the worker, AIG did not always pay promptly.

In December of 2008, an administrative law judge ordered AIG to reinstate and pay back pay to Kevin Smith, another injured truck driver, after the insurer contested his claim and cut off his benefits for months. Smith says that AIG started sending him his disability checks after the ruling, but has still not paid the $91,000 in back pay, penalty and interest payments the DOL said it still owed him.

// <![CDATA[//

Smith says he has had to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for psychological therapy to treat his PTSD because AIG has not approved any of his psychologists.

Herr said AIG does not ordinarily comment on individual claims but stated “in this instance, we paid and are continuing to pay all medical and disability claims that are due and payable to Mr. Smith and Mr. Carlisle under this program.” Herr invited the two men to have their attorneys contact AIG’s chief claims officer, Charles Schader, if there was “any continuing disagreement regarding that conclusion.”

Smith and Carlisle’s cases also illustrate the shortcomings of the World War II-era system for handling claims of those civilian workers who say they were psychologically traumatized after experiencing IED attacks and insurgent ambushes.

Carlisle says he has suffered from depression and anxiety since returning from Iraq in 2008. As a naval veteran, he has been able to see a local Veteran Affairs psychiatrist to treat his psychological symptoms, but he says that many of the other traumatized drivers have nowhere to turn for help.

The injured truck drivers expressed frustration that officials and lawmakers in Washington have not done anything to fix the system in the months since a Congressional hearing examined the problems.

At the hearing last June, the deputy secretary of the Department of Labor called for “fundamental reform” of the law governing insurance claims by civilian contractors, the Defense Base Act, that was first enacted in 1941 and originally designed for claims from only hundreds, not thousands, of contractors.

“Tinkering around the edges is not going to work here,” said Seth Harris, the number-two official in the DOL, to lawmakers on the House Government Oversight and Reform committee.

At the same hearing AIG’s Schader testified that the company had done its best to handle the contractor claims under a law he described as “ill-suited” for handling the complexities of the injuries faced by today’s war-zone workers. For the post-traumatic stress claims, AIG specifically recommended “interagency cooperation” between the DOL and the Department of Veterans Affairs for the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

// <![CDATA[//

Since that hearing, said a DOL spokesman in a statement Wednesday, the DOL’s Office of Workers Compensation has “initiated new performance measures intended to facilitate the delivery of benefits to claimants.” The spokesman also said that the DOL is continuing its efforts to shorten the dispute process, which has dropped from 285 days in 2002 to a current average of 251 days. “We remain ready to work with Congress to improve the Defense Base Act.”

Carlisle worries that if the system isn’t fixed it will ultimately end up hurting U.S. war efforts overseas.

“No civilian will be willing to go and do what we’ve done, because they’ll be afraid to,” said Carlisle. “What’s going to happen if they get hurt or injured? What’s going to happen to their spouse if they get killed? They’re going to have to deal with companies like AIG.” Original Story here

March 18, 2010 Posted by | AIG and CNA, KBR, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

T Christian Miller on Bill Carlisle and Injured War Zone Contractors

Bill Carlisle interviewed by T Miller

T Miller brings to light yet another Injured War Zone Contractor who is about to become  homeless due to the unwarranted  denial of Defense Base Act insurance benefits by AIG.    Bill Carlisle has worked hard his whole life and was working hard when he was injured.  Thanks to AIG and the fact no one in Congress or the DoL seems to give a damn, Bill’s home is in foreclosure with a sale date within the month.

So what if he eventually gets the payments he is already supposed to be getting?  His credit is ruined and he won’t be able to buy another home.   He’s just another KBR AIG DBA casualty.  AIG and CNA are ruining one life right after another.

Why is the Taxpayer paying for these benefits?

In recent years, the Pentagon has come to increasingly rely on private military contractors to do the work that members of the military used to do. But as the number of civilian contractors has grown, so too has the number of deaths and injuries of those contractors and with it, the cost of paying health care benefits for their injury claims.

T. Christian Miller [1] recently won the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting [2] for his coverage of the numerous obstacles contractors face [3] when they’ve been injured and try to collect benefits. We spoke to him about who is responsible for taking care of injured contractors, the ordeal they have to go through to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the role AIG plays in this, contractor suicide rates and how Congress is addressing the problem.

We also hear from one of the people facing the difficulties Miller has documented. Bill Carlisle Jr. was a contractor with defense firm KBR. He sustained both physical and psychological injuries, and is now fighting insurer AIG for the benefits he says they owe him

Go here to listen to the Podcast

Articles discussed in this podcast:

Injured War Zone Contractors Fight to Get Care From AIG and Other Insurers

The Other Victims of Battlefield Stress; Defense Contractors’ Mental Health Neglected

Injured Abroad, Neglected at Home: Labor Dept. Slow to Help War Zone Contractors

Labor Dept., Congress Plan Improvements to System to Care for Injured War Contractors

Pentagon Study Proposes Overhaul of Defense Base Act to Cover Care for injured Contractors

Download this episode

March 12, 2010 Posted by | AIG and CNA, Contractor Casualties, KBR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The War’s Quiet Scandal

As the military death toll in Afghanistan nears one thousand, T. Christian Miller reports on the sad plight of the non-soldiers who support our troops there.

by T Christian Miller    at   The Daily Beast

REDDING, Calif. — Wade Dill does not figure into the toll of war dead. An exterminator, Dill took a job in Iraq for a company contracted to do pest control on military bases. There, he found himself killing disease-carrying flies and rabid dogs, dodging mortars and huddling in bomb shelters.

Dill, a Marine Corps veteran, was a different man when he came back for visits here, his family said: moody, isolated, morose. He screamed at his wife and daughter. His weight dropped. Dark circles haunted his dark brown eyes.

Three weeks after he returned home for good, Dill booked a room in an anonymous three-story motel alongside Interstate 5. There, on July 16, 2006, he shot himself in the head with a 9 mm handgun. He left a suicide note for his wife and a picture for his daughter, then 16. The caption read: “I did exist and I loved you.”

More than three years later, Dill’s loved ones are still reeling, their pain compounded by a drawn-out battle with an insurance company over death benefits from the suicide. Barb Dill, 47, nearly lost the family’s home to foreclosure. “We’re circling the drain,” she said.

While suicide among soldiers has been a focus of Congress and the public, relatively little attention has been paid to the mental health of tens of thousands of civilian contractors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. When they make the news at all, contractors are usually in the middle of scandal, depicted as cowboys, wastrels or worse.

No agency tracks how many civilian workers have killed themselves after returning from the war zones. A small study in 2007 found that 24 percent of contract employees from DynCorp, a defense contractor, showed signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after returning home. The figure is roughly equivalent to those found in studies of returning soldiers.

If the pattern holds true on a broad scale, thousands of such workers may be suffering from mental trauma, said Paul Brand, the CEO of Mission Critical Psychological Services, a firm that provides counseling to war zone civilians. More than 200,000 civilians work in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the most recent figures.

“There are many people falling through the cracks, and there are few mechanisms in place to support these individuals,” said Brand, who conducted the study while working at DynCorp.”There’s a moral obligation that’s being overlooked. Can the government really send people to a war zone and neglect their responsibility to attend to their emotional needs after the fact?”

The survivors of civilians who have committed suicide have found themselves confused, frustrated and alone in their grief.

“If I was in the military, I’d at least have someone to talk to,” said Melissa Finkenbinder, 42, whose husband, Kert, a mechanic, killed himself after returning from Iraq. “Contractors don’t have anything. Their families don’t have anything.”

Some families of civilian contractors who have committed suicide have tried to battle for help through an outdated government system designed to provide health insurance and death benefits to civilian contractors injured or killed on the job.

Under the system, required by a law known as the Defense Base Act, defense firms must purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees in war zones. It is highly specialized and expensive insurance, dominated by the troubled giant AIG and a handful of other companies. The cost of it is paid by taxpayers as part of the contract price.

If the pattern holds true on a broad scale, thousands of war zone workers may be suffering from mental trauma, said Paul Brand, the CEO of Mission Critical Psychological Services, a firm which provides counseling to war zone civilians.

But the law, which is designed to provide coverage for accidental death and injury, blocks payment of death benefits in the case of almost all suicides. Cases linked to mental incapacity are the lone exception, judges have ruled.

A joint investigation last year by ProPublica, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that contract workers must frequently battle carriers for basic medical coverage. While Congress has promised reforms, there has been no discussion of changing the law when it comes to suicides involving civilian defense workers.

The military, by contrast, allows survivors to receive benefits in cases in which a soldier’s suicide can be linked to depression caused by battlefield stress.

Hundreds of soldiers have committed suicide since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, according to studies by the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In response, the Defense Department has become more active in trying to prevent suicide than its hired contractors, military experts said.

The military is “aggressively trying to reach people and do intervention beforehand and set up suicide awareness programs,” said Ian de Planque, a benefits expert at the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group. “Awareness of it has increased. I don’t know that it’s transferred over to the civilian sector at this point.”

Birgitt Eysselinck has spent years trying to prove that her husband’s death in Iraq was related to stress from his job with a company specializing in the removal of land mines and explosive ordnance. So far, courts have sided with the insurance firm, Chicago-based CNA, in denying Eysselinck’s claim. (CNA declined to comment, citing privacy reasons.)

Eysselinck, 44, said that neither federal judges nor insurance adjusters understand that civilian contractors face many of the same risks in Iraq and Afghanistan that soldiers do. Her husband, Tim Eysselinck, endured mortar attacks and frequently traveled across Iraq’s dangerous highways, she said.

“There is a huge percentage of contractors who are silently suffering,” Eysselinck said. “That obviously puts them and their families at risk. Communities are bearing the brunt of this, especially the families.”

Wade Dill was working at a local pest control company when he decided to take a job with KBR in Iraq in late 2004. The money was good—almost $11,000 a month for handling extermination and hazardous material disposal, more than double his normal salary.

“He said this was our opportunity,” Barb Dill said. “He could start a college fund for our daughter, pay off the mortgage and have a nice retirement. He told me at his age, 41, he didn’t know if he had enough years left in him to give us what he wanted.”

Wade started that December, working on bases in central and northern Iraq. Violence was ever present. A base near Mosul was shelled frequently. He told Barb that a mortar landed close enough to temporarily deafen him. Once, he called her sobbing.

My husband never cried, ever,” she said. “Marines don’t cry. A young man, a soldier, had put a pistol to his head and blown his brains out. And Wade had to go in and clean up after they removed the body—he had to clean up brain matter and blood. It really upset him.”

Barb Dill noticed a change in her husband when he returned home for a visit in December 2005. The couple had been high school sweethearts, married for 15 years. They had troubles, but had always worked them out. Now, he seemed moody and often angry, lashing out at her and their daughter, Sara.

“He would say hateful things to me and our daughter—things he had never said before.” Dill said. “This was a man that loved his little girl and his wife. He always called us his girls.”

When Wade returned for another visit in June 2006, he abruptly quit his job and began acting erratically, Dill said. He ripped the wiring out of appliances, smashed mirrors and poured lighter fluid on their furniture.

After a few weeks, Wade took a room at a local motel. On July 15, he asked Barb to come see him. Their conversation spiraled into a confrontation. Frightened and angry, Barb sped off in her car. The next day, the Shasta County coroner’s office called to tell her that Wade’s body had been found in the room.

“He told me that he was sick and needed help,” Dill said. “I told him to get help and then we would talk. The last time I saw him was in my rearview mirror.”

Dill soon found herself in financial difficulty. Her husband had always taken care of the bills. He had spent lavishly with his higher salary, buying two BMWs during trips home. Now, Dill discovered the couple was $300,000 in debt on their mortgage and car loans.

She plunged into depression, struggling to cope with her daughter’s grief and the sense that she had failed her husband in his time of need. She sold the cars and nearly lost her home after falling behind on mortgage payments.

She suffered mostly by herself. Except for a handful of Web sites, no support groups exist for widows of civilian contractors. The federal government offers no counseling for civilians returning from work in war zones.

Dill said that she felt abandoned by everyone: her husband’s employer, the insurance company and especially the federal government, which oversees the Defense Base Act system through the Labor Department.

“Shouldn’t our government be responsible for the companies they hire?” Dill said. “Shouldn’t our government take care of its own people, who are doing jobs our government, ultimately, wanted them to do?”

****

Survivors of civilian contractors whose death is related to their work in Iraq have the right to apply for compensation benefits that pay up to $63,000 a year for life.

Dill applied, asserting that her husband’s PTSD made him an exception to the rule against payments in suicide cases. Her claim was denied by AIG, KBR’s insurance provider.

She protested, sending her claim into a dispute resolution system run by the Labor Department. Her case is still grinding its way through the system, which can take years to produce a final result.

Experts hired by the family and the insurance company differed on what led to Wade Dill’s suicide.

psychiatrist hired by her attorney found that job stress in Iraq was one of the factors that drove Wade to suicide: “The bottom line is that the combination of physical separation and work-related stress resulted in increasingly emotional distance, greater distortion of the relationship, increasing emotional intensity, and a pattern of increasing erratic behaviors that culminated in suicide,” wrote Charles Seaman, an expert in PTSD.

A Labor Department examiner recommended that AIG pay the claim, but the company refused. AIG and KBR declined comment about the case. In court filings, AIG has argued that the Defense Base Act does not cover suicides.

AIG attorneys also have said that Wade Dill’s actions were related to marital and family problems. A psychiatrist hired by AIG testified at a hearing in San Francisco in January that he had performed a “psychological autopsy” on Wade Dill based on interviews with his family and court documents.

The psychiatrist, Andrew D. Whyman, said his evaluation led him to conclude that Dill suffered from depression and that his suicide was unrelated to the violence he witnessed in Iraq.

“Take out the Iraq experience, (the suicide) would have happened,” Whyman testified. “He had a choice. … He could have chosen not to do that.”

Barb Dill insists her husband came back from Iraq a changed man.

“No matter how strained our relationship could get at times, we always pulled out of it with no problem,” Dill said. “Iraq changed all that.”

Now, she said, she is trying to hold her life together. A final decision in her case is not expected for months.

“We’re just slowly sinking,” she said. “It’s hard to be strong.”

T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica. He reported for the Los Angeles Times from 1997-2008. He won the 2010 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for his work on insurance coverage for defense contractors deployed in war zones. Miller is the author of Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq. “For more information on contract workers killed and injured in war zones, please visit www.propublica.org/contractors

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February 26, 2010 Posted by | AIG and CNA, Contractor Casualties, KBR | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Contractors in Iraq are Hidden Casualties of War

by T Christian Miller49678720

In April 2004, Reggie Lane was driving a fuel truck in Iraq for a defense contractor when insurgents attacked his convoy with rocket-propelled grenades, causing him numerous injuries. For most of the five years since, Lane, now 60, has spent his days in silence, cared for at the Country Gardens Adult Foster Care in Central Point, Ore. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Propublica

LA Times

Reporting from Central Point, Ore. – A nurse rocked him awake as pale dawn light crept into the room. “C’mon now, c’mon,” the nurse murmured. “Time to get up.”

Reggie Lane was once a hulking man of 260 pounds. Friends called him “Big Dad.” Now, he weighed less than 200 pounds and his brain was severely damaged. He groaned angry, wordless cries.

The nurse moved fast. Two bursts of deodorant spray under each useless arm. Then he dressed Lane and used a mechanical arm to hoist him into a wheelchair.

He wheeled Big Dad down a hallway and parked the chair in a beige dining room, in front of a picture window. Outside stretched a green valley of pear trees filled with white blossoms.

Lane’s head fell forward, his chin buried in his chest. His legs crossed and uncrossed involuntarily. His left index finger was rigid and pointed, as if frozen in permanent accusation.

In 2004, Lane was driving a fuel truck in Iraq for a defense contractor when insurgents attacked his convoy with rocket-propelled grenades. For most of the five years since, Lane, now 60, has spent his days in silence — a reminder of the hidden costs of relying on civilian contract workers to support the U.S. war effort.

His wife, Linda, said visiting her husband was difficult. They were childhood friends and fiercely loyal to each other. On this spring morning, she caressed his hand and told him she loved him.

“He was a good man. He paid his bills. He took care of his family,” she said, her breathing labored from a pulmonary disease. “He’s a human being who fought for his country. He doesn’t deserve to be thrown away.”

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has depended on contract workers more than in any previous conflict — to cook meals for troops, wash laundry, deliver supplies and protect diplomats, among other tasks. Tens of thousands of civilians have worked in the two battle zones, often facing the same dangers as U.S. troops and suffering the same kinds of injuries.

Contract workers from the U.S. have been mostly men, primarily middle-aged, many of them military veterans drawn by money, patriotism or both, according to interviews and public records. They are police officers, truck drivers, firefighters, mechanics and craftsmen, mostly from rural corners of America, especially the South.

Nearly 1,600 civilian workers — both Americans and foreign nationals — have died in the two war zones. Thousands more have been injured. (More than 5,200 U.S. service members have been killed and 35,000 wounded.)

Many of the civilians have come home as military veterans in all but name, sometimes with lifelong disabilities but without the support network available to returning troops.

There are no veterans’ halls for civilian workers, no Gold Star Wives, no military hospitals. Politicians pay little attention to their problems, and the military has not publicized their contributions.

“These guys are like the Vietnam vets of this generation,” said Lee Frederiksen, a psychologist who worked for Mission Critical Psychological Services, a Chicago-based firm that provides counseling for war zone workers. “The normal support that you would get if you were injured in the line of duty as a police officer or if you were injured in the military . . . just doesn’t exist.”

Herbert J. Lanese, former chief executive of DynCorp International, one of the largest employers of civilian workers in Iraq and Afghanistan, said: “These are people who have given their lives in the service of our country. They are the unappreciated patriots of our country at this point in time.”

Lane was born in Ventura and moved to Grants Pass, Ore., when he turned 12. He met Linda there, and the two grew up together.

After high school, Reggie enlisted in the Army and went to Vietnam. He and Linda found each other after he returned. By then, each had been married and divorced, and each had a child.

As a pair, they were inseparable. Reggie was steady, strong. Linda was energetic and outgoing. They eventually found work as a truck-driving team, steering tractor-trailers across the country.

His CB radio handle was “Grizzly.” Hers was “Wild Cat.” He loved country music and Tom Clancy novels, G. Gordon Liddy’s talk show and Honda motorcycles. She loved the open road, the speed of the truck.

“We went to see the big wide world driving a truck. What an adventure,” Linda recalled.

But work was haphazard, and the pay was modest. Together, they made about $32,000 a year. They had a hard time keeping up with bills and twice filed for bankruptcy.

In the late 1990s, they sold their home in Oregon and moved to Montana, where land was cheaper.

In the fall of 2003, Linda heard that defense contractor KBR Inc. was hiring truck drivers to deliver fuel, food and supplies for the military in Iraq. The salary was $88,000 a year, more than they had ever earned.

“We wouldn’t be on easy street,” Linda said. “But we wouldn’t be stressed.”

By November, Reggie was on his way to Iraq. He arrived during a turbulent period, with the insurgency raging. Convoys regularly came under attack. The trucks were not armored.

“He didn’t go over there to fight a war. He went over there because [KBR] said, ‘You’ll have armed guards,’ ” Linda said. “They promised big money. ‘You’ll be protected, no problem.’ ”

On April 9, 2004, Reggie Lane and a friend, Jason Hurd, rolled out of a base south of Baghdad to deliver fuel to Balad, north of the city. The convoy was outside Baghdad when gunfire rang out. Hurd saw Reggie’s truck careen to the side of the road.

Hurd pulled over. A rocket-propelled grenade had shattered the windshield. Reggie was lying face-up on the shoulder of the road. His right arm was gone below the elbow. His face was covered in shrapnel wounds. He was drenched in blood.

The rest of the convoy moved ahead, apparently oblivious. Hurd fumbled with Reggie’s arm, trying to apply a tourniquet. Then a group of military vehicles pulled over to help.

Soldiers helped stabilize Lane, who shuddered awake and asked for water. An Army helicopter evacuated him to a U.S. base, where he was put on an emergency flight to Germany.

Linda got the news from a military doctor. A few days later, Reggie called. He told her not to worry.

“I still got one arm left to hug you with,” he said.

It was the last conversation she would have with her husband.

Two days later, another military doctor in Germany called Linda, asking permission to perform an emergency tracheotomy on Reggie. A blood clot had dislodged, blocking the flow of blood to his brain.

“My head is spinning. I’m trying to digest what they’re telling me,” Linda said. “I’m deciding this long-distance by phone, and it’s someone I love.”

Ten days after the attack, Reggie Lane was on a flight back to the U.S., headed to a Houston hospital. KBR paid to have Linda meet her husband in Texas.

She was unprepared for the sight. A raw, red stump was all that remained of his right arm. There was a hole in his throat. She could see his intestines, which were left exposed to aid in cleaning out shrapnel. His body was swollen and purple. He was unresponsive, his pupils mere pinpoints.

Over the next nine months, Linda lived out of a hotel in downtown Houston. She became her husband’s advocate, navigating a complex medical world with little guidance.

“It was a lot of one foot in front of the other. I was pretty devastated,” she said.

Slowly, Lane’s condition improved. Toward the end of his hospital stay, he could respond to questions. He would say: “Love Linda.” He was trying to stand up with help.

“By the time he left, he was interacting, communicating,” said Dr. Sunil Kothari, a neurosurgeon who coordinated Reggie’s care at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) Memorial Hermann in Houston, one of the country’s top rehabilitation hospitals for brain injury. “Near the end, he was beginning to answer questions, starting to vocalize.”

In January 2005, doctors cleared Reggie for release. He was going home.

Grants Pass had a handful of nursing homes. They provided physical and speech therapy, but Linda was dissatisfied with the care. She confronted workers at one home, leading to Reggie’s discharge. He returned to a hospital.

Linda was dealing with her own health problems. Her weight ballooned. She was admitted to the hospital repeatedly with breathing difficulties.

As Linda searched for a home for her husband, she got into a dispute with American International Group Inc., the insurance carrier for KBR. Linda wanted her husband close to home. She said AIG insisted that he go to a facility in Portland, where care was less expensive than in the hospital.

Troops injured in Iraq are guaranteed care at Veterans Administration facilities. In contrast, contract workers depend on worker’s compensation insurance paid for by the federal government under the Defense Base Act. They often must fight with insurers to get medical bills paid.

Linda hired a lawyer, and AIG relented, allowing Reggie to be placed in an adult foster care home near Grants Pass.

The lawyer, Roger Hawkins of Los Angeles, said it was the least Reggie deserved.

“You look in his eyes and you see that somewhere, he realizes what is going on,” Hawkins said. “He’s sitting there with his arm missing and knowing that he’s never going to get better.”

AIG and KBR declined to comment on the case.

Reggie’s mental state had gradually declined since he’d left Houston. Before, he spoke. Now he descended into long silences broken only by grunts.

Told of Lane’s condition, Kothari, who treated him in Houston, expressed concern.

“Decline is not typical,” Kothari said. “If someone goes to a nursing facility, if they happen not to get stimuli, it means the brain could not heal as well as it would otherwise.”

Jim Gregg, operator of the foster care home where Lane was placed, said the facility was not equipped for advanced physical or speech therapy. In their home on a 4-acre farm, Gregg and his wife provided basic medical care and monitoring to half a dozen elderly patients.

“It’s a boring life. He just sits here,” Gregg said. “It’s not a stimulating environment.”

Gregg closed his facility earlier this year, and Lane was moved to another foster home. The total cost of Lane’s care for the rest of his life could be as much as $8.9 million, according to an AIG estimate. The bill will be paid by the federal government, which reimburses insurers for combat-related claims from war zone workers.

Linda Lane died July 10. She had been hospitalized after suffering respiratory distress, family members said.

Reggie let out a wail when relatives told him the news. “I had never heard anything like that before,” said Bev Glasgow, who runs Lane’s current foster home.

Glasgow arranged for a van to take Reggie to a memorial service for his wife. It was held in a state park alongside the Rogue River. Under the shade of scrub oak and aspen, he watched as Linda’s family and friends sang “Amazing Grace” and looked at old photos of the couple.

Diane Firestone, Reggie’s sister, visited him shortly after Linda’s death. She said the family accepted that Reggie’s condition was unlikely to change. But, she said, they did not believe his sacrifices had been adequately recognized, by his company or the country.

She knelt beside her brother and asked him about the attack on his convoy.

“Hey, Reg,” she said. “Do you know it’s been five years? It doesn’t seem that long to me. Does it seem that long to you?”

Reggie blinked twice, hard — his signal for yes


October 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Military Contractor Awaits Medical Treatment Two Years Later

Two and a half years ago, Texan Mark McLean found himself “running for his life” one hot evening on a military base in Baghdad.

Mark McLeanIt was, according to McLean, “the number one shelled base in Iraq for a couple of years” “ and just such a mortar event sent McLean, a Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc. water purification technician, scrambling for cover during the workday’s second shift.

According to McLean, he slid under a flight of stairs, hurting his right knee. When the shelling was over, he raised himself to his 6-foot-plus height, hitting his head on the edge of the staircase and compressing his spine. It was the night of April 7, 2007.

On the following day, McLean says a KBR medic advised him to soldier on.

“‘If you tell anybody about it, you’re probably going to get fired,’” McLean reported the medic to have said. “So I worked another year, not knowing how injured I was, but it got to the point where I couldn’t even walk to the dining facility once a day.”

McLean, who is now a part-time resident of Waring in Kendall County, said he’s received minimal medical attention since the initial injury, a deteriorating condition that’s left him crippled by constant pain.

After 12 months of wait-and-see during which his injuries didn’t resolve themselves, McLean ended up in Kuwait City, visiting a physician who pushed for “immediate surgery.”

That recommendation was made in the spring of 2008. Since McLean’s return to the U.S. in May of that year, he said he’s waited “ and waited “ and continues to wait “ for AIG, KBR’s insurance carrier under the Defense Base Act, to decide if McLean’s claim is legitimate.

Apparently, McLean’s problems are not unique. In June of this year, the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing revealingly entitled “After Injury, the Battle Begins: Evaluating Workers’ Compensation for Civilian Contractors in War Zones.”

During the hearing, two contract workers testified that AIG “delayed and denied” their claims for months that dragged into years. In addition, a December 2007 Army audit revealed that almost $300 million that AIG received in taxpayer-funded premiums were being paid out at a rate of less than 4 percent.

Last year, congressional investigators calculated that insurance companies had collected $1.5 billion in premiums, while estimating that these companies would spend approximately $900 million in compensation.

The generally accepted numbers reveal that although thousands of contractors have been injured while working jobs on American bases, AIG is reporting profits that range between 37 to 50 percent.

In April of this year, an investigation conducted by ProPublica, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times maintained that AIG is “battling” civilian contractor claims by “routinely” denying them. According to the investigation, outstanding claims to AIG account for most of an insurance inventory including claims by more than 32,000 laborers or their families injured or killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

McLean certainly feels himself to be one of what some are calling the “Disposable Army.” His status as a contract worker has earned the technician and others like him, a spot in a dusty and forgotten back drawer.

Nobody cares, McLean said, because of the preconceived notions that contract workers endure. People believe he made huge sums of money, according to McLean, when in fact his paycheck stub reveals that he made $14.95 an hour, clocking 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Others doubt his very motivation “ his patriotism – McLean said.

“I’ve had a woman spit on me and call me a mercenary. A lot of Army guys feel that way too, but I faced dangers too and I didn’t make that much money,” he said. “Where military gets people coming up to them and thanking them for being a hero “ you know, I’ve been spit upon.”

The ProPublica, ABC News and Los Angeles Times investigation reports that Texas has suffered a surprisingly high number of contractor casualties per capita ” 22 contractors have been injured or killed for every 100,000 people. It’s the second highest rate in the nation after Washington D.C.

Every four military casualties are matched by one civilian contractor death.

But McLean doesn’t so much care about these statistics aside from how they might affect his insurance hearing that has been delayed many times.

Mostly, McLean said he would just like for his pain to be addressed.

“Right now my lower back feels like it’s got a knife going in it,” McLean said. “I’ve got pain radiating down both legs and both my feet feel like they’re on fire. I live in constant pain “ constant pain, life-altering pain. And there’s nothing I can do to not feel pain. Chronic pain wears you down. You can’t concentrate.”

He’d also like to be recognized as having served the United States. Excluded earlier from military service because of asthma, McLean said he was excited, to be going to Baghdad.

“I was finally getting to do something for my country.” Instead he said, he hears comments like, “Oh, you really didn’t do anything.”

McLean keenly feels this dismissal.

“You don’t get used to living in a place like that,” he said of his service in Baghdad. “You don’t get used to putting your friends in body bags.”

Six of his civilian friends were killed by shelling during the course of the three years he was in Iraq.

“It’s so unpleasant there. You’re constantly worn out, you’re constantly tired “ it’s just a dangerous, nasty, horrible place,” McLean said, “but I kept doing it.”

Thirty days after he returned to San Antonio, McLean tried to log onto his KBR employee accounts, and that’s how he found out he’d been fired while on medical leave. “Not one person has contacted me,” McLean said. “My life is on hold.”

Living expenses for the past year have chewed through his savings, and he said he knows that under the Defense Base Act, AIG isn’t likely to grant any compensation for pain and suffering. McLean is asking for the past year’s wages and medical help.

Almost 30 months have passed since his injury and McLean’s claim is still in limbo.

Meanwhile, the Houston Business Journal reported in January that KBR was granted another $35.4 million contract for further work in Iraq.

“This whole thing is a travesty,” McLean said. “I resisted telling this story for awhile, but I think people ought to know. I served my country too, and I’ve been forgotten.”

Read Story here

September 23, 2009 Posted by | KBR | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congressman Announces Plan to Reform US System to Care for Injured Civilian Contractors

Congressman Announces Plan to Reform U.S. System to Care for Injured Civilian Contractors

Original Story Here
by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – September 9, 2009 5:20 pm EDT
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation later this year to improve the delivery of medical care to civilian contractors injured while working with the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cummings declined to provide details about his proposal but said he hoped it would reduce the $300 million a year paid by defense contractors to insurance companies.

“The system is broken, and the insurance companies have reaped the benefits,” said Cummings, who pushed for hearings [1] earlier this year after investigations [2] by ProPublica, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times found that insurance carriers routinely denied claims by injured contractors.

A new study released today found that insurance carriers charge defense contractors far higher rates in war zones to cover routine injuries and accidents. That baffles congressional officials, who have noted that the government separately pays for all war-related injuries to civilian contractors. Why, they ask, should it cost significantly more to insure an employee in Iraq against a slip or fall then one in Tunisia?

“The industry report underscores the need for major reforms of a very expensive and broken system that ostensibly is designed to help private contract workers in places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” Sen. Bernie Saunders, I-Vt., said in a statement. “Insurance companies such as A.I.G. should not make unjustifiable profits by overcharging the U.S. government for basic workers compensation. During the June congressional oversight hearing, I pressed the Pentagon and the Department of Labor to make the necessary reforms so wounded workers get the support they deserve. The Pentagon has said that the recommendations will be on my desk next week and I will take a hard look at their ideas.”

The study by insurance broker Aon Corp. was an anonymous survey involving 18 defense contractors which purchase the specialized workers compensation policies required under a federal law known as the Defense Base Act [3]. Most of the firms said they were charged higher rates for workers compensation insurance in Iraq and Afghanistan than for comparable workers hired in other foreign countries.

In some cases, defense companies in Iraq and Afghanistan paid more than double for the insurance, which covers medical costs and disability benefits for injured civilians. One defense firm paid 18 percent of its payroll for insurance — meaning that the company had to spend $18,000 to purchase a single worker’s compensation policy for an employee making $100,000 a year.

The cost of such policies became controversial after 9/11, when rates skyrocketed as civilian contractors flooded into Iraq and Afghanistan. An arm of troubled insurance giant AIG, recently renamed Chartis, sold the bulk of the policies, turning an obscure and lightly regulated insurance line into a billion-dollar business.

Taxpayers ultimately pay for the insurance as part of the cost of federal contracts.

Congressional investigators and government auditors have accused AIG and other carriers of exploiting a market with limited competition to overcharge for the insurance, pointing to profit margins as high as 40 percent on some policies [4]. Insurance firms, however, have said that higher premiums reflect heightened risks of routine injury in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Aon study found that AIG continued to control “significant” market share, but was facing increased competition from ACE Group and Zurich Financial Services Group. Aon concluded that “key factors” driving rates included things such as market competition, the type of work performed by employees and local conditions.

Charlie Skinner, the Aon managing director in charge of the market survey, noted that Iraq’s roads are in poor shape after six years of war, raising the possibility of more road accidents. The survey did not directly examine, however, whether underwriters factored in war hazards in determining policy rates. “You might need to talk to underwriters to drill into that. We don’t get inside their rating models,” Skinner said.

The study, the largest of its kind to date, mirrors earlier findings by the GAO and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It comes as the Defense Department prepares later this fall to release recommendations on ways to overhaul the system.

One option under consideration would replace private insurance with government insurance — a potential blow to Aon and other firms in the industry. Skinner said Aon had contributed “factual” material to the Defense Department, but he declined to say whether the firm had recommended a course of action.

“As in most insurance and risk management decisions, there’s often not a black and white answer,” he said.

Cummings said the new legislation would “create some cost containment and improve the care for the brave men and women assisting the military.”

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Labor Day Message to Hilda Solis, Secretary, Department of Labor

Having just read your  Labor Day Statement,  we are convinced that Injured Overseas Contractors and their imagesfamilies are nowhere on your radar screen.

You say that over the last seven months you have met with many individuals and organizations.   We were disappointed that you did not respond to our requests to meet with you.   We had asked to discuss, in a helpful and positive way, the inequities these Injured Contractors suffer under the Defense Base Act which your department oversees.

You ask us in your statement to personally commit to play a role in the recovery of our economy and our nation.  To reach out to those needing help.  To do the work that will keep America Working.

Hilda Solis we ask you to personally commit that your/our Department of Labor allow us the opportunity to recover physically, mentally, and economically as the law provides under the Defense Base Act.

Reach out to your Department of Labor who is charged with ensuring that Defense Base Act Workers’ Compensation benefits are provided for covered employees promptly and correctly.

Do the work, get to know your OWCP/DHWLC/DBA,  your OALJ’s, and BRB’s.

Open your eyes to who is standing in the way of ensuring that DBA benefits are provided for covered Injured Contractors promptly and correctly.

Read some of the decisions your ALJ’s make based on the testimony of questionable doctors, witnesses, and evidence.

Question  the person who was put in charge of Policy, Regulations and Procedures for the Defense Base Act who cut her teeth with AIG and CNA’s defense lawyers and helped promote their biased book via this position of public service.

Look into the knee jerk, biased recommendations that come from some of your District Directors and some of their Claims Examiners.

Do they work for you, the injured contractor, the taxpayer or do they serve their own purpose?

Ask why CNA and AIG are never fined as the law requires for multitudes of blatent infractions of the law year after year.

Ask why CNA, AIG and the lawyers get away with relentlessly continuing hearings, thus dragging claims out for six years and longer while refusing to pay for medical and disability to the injured worker but buffing up their own financial award.

Some of these hearings will make public record of damning information vital to many other claims, including many that were already denied and will have to be re-examined.

Is your DoL helping to keep this information in the dark?

Will your legacy be the continued abuse of thousands of Injured Americans and Foreigners working on US Contracts when you personally could have stepped in and made this CHANGE?

What a stimulus to the economy it would be to get Injured Overseas Contractors and/or their families back to being the contributing members of America that they were working on behalf of when they were injured or killed working in countries all over the world.

The only stimulus the DBA currently provides is to insurance companies like  AIG and CNA, hoardes of lawyers,  and your department facilitates it.

You came to us with the promise that there was a new sheriff in town and that you would be heard.

Make our Labor Day, be heard, speak up about these abuses to Injured Contractors and demand that they stop.

Maybe then, hopefully together, we can assure that the Defense Base Act is implemented as Congress intended.


September 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sometimes It’s Not Your War, But You Sacrifice Anyway

Washington Post Opinionsphoto_1927

By T. Christian Miller

Sometimes It’s Not Your War, But You Sacrifice Anyway

To outsource the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has turned to the cheapest labor possible. About two-thirds of the 200,000 civilians working under federal contracts in the war zones are foreigners. Many come from poor, Third World countries. Others are local hires.

In the Philippines, I spoke to a woman who received a cellphone message when her son’s father died: “God took him.” She, too, had never been told of her rights to benefits by the employer or the United States. Her partner’s wages were so low that the death payment would have amounted to about $14,000. Not much, perhaps. But on the day I met her in a slum of tin shanties and reeking sewage, she did not know where she would find food that night for her three 3-year-old son. She still has received no payments.

These are not isolated examples. They are part of a pattern of neglect by the U.S. government and its contractors to inform civilian workers of their rights or even to deliver care that has already been purchased by taxpayers. While about two-thirds of the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are foreigners, only about 15 percent of claims are filed by foreigners, according to an analysis of Labor Department and Pentagon records by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom.

Since foreigners work many of the same jobs as Americans, albeit for far less money, the reasons for the disparity seem obvious. Their care has been entrusted to an overwhelmed bureaucracy and the machinations of insurance firms and multinational corporations. And the government has so far shown little interest in helping them out.

Seth Harris, the deputy secretary of labor, said at a congressional hearing in June that the program has “systemic problems,” and he urged Congress to enact new legislation. “The program is not designed for the circumstances we’re in right now,” Harris told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “We are trying to meet a complex, 21st-century challenge with a program from World War II.”

Harris’s history lesson is spot on. Congress, corporate America and individual laborers banded together 60 years ago to create the program for wounded war workers after what is perhaps one of the most forgotten chapters of World War II.

On the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing, Japanese forces also attacked the South Pacific outpost of Wake Island. At the time, about 1,200 American construction workers were beefing up the island’s defenses. Most were employed by an Idaho construction company, Morrison Knudsen. Aided by the contractors, who manned gun batteries in some cases, U.S. Marines repelled the first attack, but they fell to a second assault on Dec. 23, 1941.

The Japanese sent both civilians and soldiers to prisoner-of-war camps in China. But a contingent of 98 contract workers was kept on the island as forced labor. They were all men, mostly white, from towns across America. Photos show them with pomaded hair and fedoras. When the U.S. Navy attacked the island in October 1943, the Japanese lined up the workers and executed them, dumping their bodies in a mass grave.

A single, unknown man escaped, only to be recaptured a few weeks later. In a macabre echo of the fate that would befall several contractors in Iraq, the Japanese commander, Adm. Shigematsu Sakaibara, later confessed to personally beheading him, according to an account by Mark Hubbs, a retired Army Reserve officer who researched the incident. All told, more than 150 civilian contractors from Wake Island were killed, executed or died in prison camps.

The civilians’ entanglement in the war caught the military and the contracting firms unprepared. Earlier in the year, Congress passed the Defense Base Act, requiring defense contractors to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for employees building overseas bases as the U.S. girded for war. But it was a law for workplaces, not war zones. The law did not deal with hostile acts. Nor did it cover employees killed outside the workplace, such as civilians who died in prison camps. The families of the Wake Island men were left without income.

“These people were just coming out of the Depression. There were young wives with children, dependent parents,” said Bonnie Gilbert, an Idaho writer whose father was an imprisoned worker. “They were between a rock and a hard place.”

The families’ plight spurred action. Led by Morrison Knudsen, contracting firms lobbied Congress and financed a charity to help the families with mortgage bills and doctors visits. Each Christmas, the men’s children were given a check for around $9, according to a report published by the firms. The War Department directed emergency funds to the cause.

Congress, meanwhile, created the outlines of the current benefits system. The Defense Base Act was amended to require employers to provide coverage on a nearly 24-hour basis in war zones. To persuade insurers to write policies, Congress also passed the War Hazards Compensation Act in December 1942. The act reimburses carriers for injuries or deaths due to combat, lowering their risk for catastrophic expenses.

In creating the system, Congress recognized that civilian contractors played a vital part in fighting the war. Sen. Elbert D. Thomas (D-Utah), then chairman of the Senate’s Education and Labor Committee, urged passage by telling fellow lawmakers that the war was everybody’s business. “When once total war . . . is undertaken, the sooner we bring home to our people the fact that all are responsible for the war, all might suffer by the war and therefore all should sustain the losses, the better off we will be in a social and governmental way,” he said.

The sympathetic response to the Wake Island tragedy contrasts with the attitude toward contractors today. They are now often labeled as mercenaries or war profiteers. Their contributions to the war efforts are lost amid reports of six-figure salaries, murdered Iraqis and substandard construction. Last Sunday, a British security guard working for ArmorGroup was arrested by Iraqi authorities after allegedly gunning down two colleagues in the Green Zone — an action that would amount to a contractor version of fratricide.

Nearly 1,600 civilian workers have died in Iraq, and more than 35,000 have reported injuries. Since 2001, Congress has held scores of hearings for injured veterans, but only two for injured contractors. The Government Accountability Office has published more than 100 studies on veterans’ benefits since March 2003. It has done two on the Defense Base Act.

Nor, with a few exceptions, have the contract firms stepped forward for their employees. No company leads a charge to fix the system. Notably silent is Washington Group International, a major contractor in Iraq. The company, which has reported 19 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, was once known as Morrison Knudsen. Now part of URS Corp., the company declined to answer questions about contractor deaths.

It’s not surprising that neither the government nor the firms have felt much pressure to act. Many of the foreign workers and their families do not speak English. They do not have a senator to argue their case or a corporation to lobby for them. The result is an invisible, disposable army suffering its wounds in silence.

t.christian.miller@propublica.org

T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica and author of “Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq.”

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Report Finds Advantages in Gov’t Take Over of Care for Injured Contractors

Report Finds Advantages in Gov’t Take Over of Care for Injured Contractors

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – July 28, 2009 12:04 pm EDT

crs_report_graphic_20090728

The Congressional Research Service has found that the Defense Department was paying far higher premiums to insure civilians working in war zones than either the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The insurance is required by the Defense Base Act [1] and provides medical care and disability benefits for those injured while working under U.S. contracts overseas. Pentagon contractors negotiate rates individually with insurance firms, while the other agencies use a bidding process to set a blanket rate.

The report [2] (PDF), obtained by ProPublica, found that it was nearly impossible to determine why premiums were set so high for the Pentagon. The agreements between the carriers and individual contractors are private, even though taxpayers pay the premiums.

And while the Labor Department oversees the system, it has no power to investigate rates. In the past, both the Government Accountability Agency [3] (PDF) and the Army Audit Agency [4] (PDF) have questioned whether insurance carriers such as AIG charged the government too much for the policies. It is “difficult to assess what factors are currently used to set current DBA premiums,” the analysis said. AIG says its rates are fair and notes that they have declined over time.

The report acknowledged that it might be difficult to find a single insurance carrier to cover all the contractors for the Pentagon, which employs far more civilian workers than any other agency. It raised the possibility that the government might save money by simply taking over the system.

The Defense Base Act already requires the government to reimburse insurance carriers for costs incurred when civilian contract workers are injured in combat. By taking the system over, the government would cut out the middleman, the report said. “There are several potential advantages to having the federal government self insure,” the report said. The Congressional Research Service produces non-partisan analyses for Congress on policy matters.

One of the possible advantages is quicker payment of claims. The report pointed to a congressional hearing [5] in June prompted by investigations [6] by ProPublica, the Los Angeles Times and ABC News finding that carriers routinely denied claims for injured workers. At the hearing, the Labor Department’s deputy secretary, Seth Harris, acknowledged “extensive and troublesome” flaws in the system. The current system, the CRS report found, “can cause delays for claimants, including claimants with clear (war injury) cases that will eventually be paid” by the federal government.

The Defense Department is expected to weigh in on suggestions for reforming the system later this summer.

July 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment