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Archive for September, 2009

Military Contractor Awaits Medical Treatment Two Years Later

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 23, 2009

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

It was, according to McLean, “the number one shelled base in Iraq for a couple of years” “ and just such a mortar Mark McLeanevent 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.”

Editors note:  As often happens when you interview with small time journalists who are just banging out a story there are misquotes and omissions that alter the facts in this story and are not exactly the way that Mark expressed them.

Read original story here

Posted in AIG and CNA, KBR | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Spc Bayshee Velez charged with murder in shooting death of Trent Lucas Vinson

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 22, 2009

(AP) – 45 minutes ago

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military says a soldier has been charged with murder in the slaying of a civilian contractor on an American base in Iraq.

Spc. Beyshee Velez of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, was charged Monday in the Sept. 13 shooting death of a contractor who worked for Houston-based KBR at a base in the city of Tikrit.

The 31-year-old suspect faces dishonorable discharge and a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty.

The soldier is being held in Hawaii pending the outcome of the trial.

The KBR employee, Lucas Vinson, was from Leesville, Louisiana.

KBR is the primary support contractor in Iraq. It provides troops with essential services, including housing, meals, mail delivery and laundry.

Posted in KBR, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Defense Base Act “Withholding”

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 18, 2009

WithholdingDefense Base Act Insurance is a requirement of your employer by the US Government.  You, the taxpayer, the US Government  reimburses the contract company for the insurance “premiums”.

Defense Base Act Insurance is in NO WAY a benefit provided by the contractor company.   Nor is it medical or life  insurance that you would ever consider purchasing for yourself.   It will serve you little if you are injured while deployed.  It will serve you and your family in no way if you or they need medical help otherwise.

The DBA is nothing more than Workmans Compensation which relieves you of your constitutional rights and relieves your employer of any liability for any reason.

If you see a withholding on your paycheck for DBA insurance you are working for a really scumbag company.

And yes, we do have instances of this documented.

Posted in KBR, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Former Iraq Security Contractors Say Firm Bought Black Market Weapons, Swapped Booze for Rockets

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 18, 2009

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica and Aram Roston – September 18, 2009 10:05 am EDT

Last spring, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Iraq got a makeover,replacing the scandal-plagued Blackwater private security company with a firm named Triple Canopy.

The new $1 billion contract cemented Triple Canopy’s status as the pre-eminent provider of private security services in Iraq, with its heavily armed employees appearing side by side with senior State Department diplomats.

But the company’s rise to prominence followed a long, often chaotic route, marked by questionable weapons deals, government bungling and a criminal investigation that was ultimately closed without charges being filed, according to newly released investigative files.

Company employees told federal investigators that Triple Canopy swapped booze for weapons and supplies from the U.S. military. They said the company bought guns and other arms on the black market in Iraq. Some worried that the money was flowing into the hands of insurgents, records show.

Read the Full Story here

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Damaged and Discharged

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 17, 2009

by:  Julia O’Malleymayo-1_standalone_prod_affiliate_7

September 17, 2009

John Mayo had mayhem etched in his skin. I noticed it when I first saw him in the lobby of the Daily News. Sleeve tattoos. Black skulls, explosions and flames. Demon drill sergeants. A rifle made to look like a deadly cartoon.

He introduced himself and his wife, Ellie. He carried their baby, Cason, in a car seat. I showed them into a room where we could talk. Mayo limped when he walked and held his shoulders tight, his T-shirt flagging over muscle and bone.

I asked them to come by after speaking with his mother-in-law. She had called asking for help. She told me he had been kicked out of the Army for committing a crime he didn’t remember.

It was late August. It had been about a month since he’d left the Army. He was discharged for shoplifting at the Base Exchange. Now they were broke. Neither he nor Ellie had a job. They were halfway homeless, camped out in a house under construction in Wasilla.

Mayo pushed a piece of paper across the table. It was written by the defense attorney at his military discharge proceeding. It summarized his record as a soldier. He deployed to Iraq from Fort Richardson in 2006 with about 3,500 others in the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. He was in Iraq for more than a year.

The document said Mayo had never been in serious trouble before. On the day in April he was accused of shoplifting, the document said, he was heavily medicated for post-traumatic stress disorder and a knee injury. He had Army-written prescriptions for painkillers, anti-depressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs and anti-psychotic medications.

“Mayo has no recollection of committing the larceny,” his lawyer wrote.

Full story here

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Drugs suspected in death of Afghanistan contractor

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 16, 2009

The Associated Press
Original Story here
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WASHINGTON — A U.S. contractor in Afghanistan helping train the national police was found dead last week of a possible drug overdose, just months after his company was reprimanded by the State Department for another worker’s drug-related death.

The deaths have raised questions over how well DynCorp International selects and manages those assigned to the police training contract, a crucial component of the U.S. effort to hand over more of the security burden to the Afghans.

The leaders of an independent panel investigating wartime spending said Wednesday they are troubled by the deaths of two workers at the State Department’s largest contractor.

“This shouldn’t be treated as an isolated event that (the State Department) can ignore,” said Christopher Shays, co-chairman of the Commission on Wartime Contracting. “They really need to step in and say, ‘Do we have a drug problem at DynCorp?'”

The employee was found dead in his quarters in Kabul, the capital, on Sept. 10. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said an investigation is under way.

DynCorp spokesman Douglas Ebner said the company would not speculate on the cause of the death.

Michael Thibault, who along with Shays heads the contracting commission, said DynCorp officials informed the panel last week that a syringe, needle, and a drug vial were found near the body. A toxicology test will be conducted to determine if drugs were a factor.

The employee, a medic, had arrived in Afghanistan in late August. Given his profession, it would not be unusual for medical supplies to be found in his room.

On March 17, a DynCorp employee assigned to the same contract was found dead in the company’s housing in Kabul. Drug use was suspected in that death, which remains under investigation. After that death, the State Department ordered the company to replace its senior project managers on the police training contract.

Both the departments of State and Defense depend heavily upon contractors such as DynCorp for support in war zones for construction, transportation, security, food service and laundry. But how well federal authorities are watching over the performance and conduct of this industrial army is a long-standing concern.

Most recently, the State Department has been criticized by the commission and public interest groups for failing to know that private security guards hired to protect the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan were engaging in lewd and inappropriate behavior that may have compromised the U.S. effort there.

DynCorp has been training police in Afghanistan since 2003, according to information on the Falls Church, Va.-based company’s Web site. The latest installment of the training contract was awarded by the State Department in August 2008 and is worth $317 million.

Dyncorp has 16,000 employees in Iraq and Afghanistan and expects to expand that number to 20,000 as demands for its services increase.

William Ballhaus, DynCorp’s president and chief executive officer, was asked about the Sept. 10 death during a hearing held Monday by the wartime contracting panel on a separate State Department contract.

Ballhaus didn’t discuss the cause of the death or provide any details about the employee. But he did say company managers in Afghanistan treated the area where the employee died as a “crime scene,” securing the room with guards to make sure evidence wasn’t removed.

He also said the company immediately notified the State Department and the FBI. “We’re talking about tens of minutes on this timeline,” Ballhaus said.

The body was brought to back to the U.S. on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, he added.

Ballhaus said he and other DynCorp officials reviewed how the employee was recruited, hired and trained. “We wanted to make sure our process was intimately followed, and it was,” he said.

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

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 15, 2009

Pentagon Study Proposes Overhaul of Defense Base Act to Cover Care for Injured Contractorsdba-report-475

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – September 15, 2009 6:52 pm EDT

WASHINGTON, DC – Congress could save as much as $250 million a year through a sweeping overhaul of the controversial U.S. system to care for civilian contractors injured in war zones, according to a new Pentagon study.

In the most extensive review ever of the taxpayer-financed system, the Pentagon suggested that the government could issue its own insurance to cover the skyrocketing costs of medical care and disability pay for injured civilians.

Currently, the U.S. pays more than $400 million annually to AIG and a handful of other carriers to purchase special workers compensation insurance policies required for overseas civilian contractors by a law known as the Defense Base Act, the study found.

By cutting out insurance company profits as high as 35%, the government could self-insure the contractors for less money, according to a copy of the study obtained by ProPublica [1]. The study is due to be released Friday.

The Pentagon’s suggestion would require a massive legislative revision of the government’s 60-year-old system to care for injured civilians, which has been criticized as expensive and ineffective for modern war zones where civilian contractors account for half the work force.

Despite the possible savings, it remains unclear whether anyone in Congress will champion such a bill. And the Pentagon hedged its bets by saying that it would pursue reforms to the current system of private insurance while “considering” the pursuit of legislative authority to change to a system of self insurance.

Such a proposal could also improve the delivery of care to injured contractors, the report found. Civilian contractors have faced protracted battles with insurance carriers to obtain medical treatment and disability pay, according to an investigation [2] by ProPublica, the Los Angeles Times and ABC News.

“In the long run, the self-insurance alternative may have the greatest potential for minimizing DBA insurance costs, and it has several administrative and compliance advantages as well,” the report said. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined comment since the report has not yet been made public.

Under the proposed system, the U.S. would pay directly for medical benefits and disability benefits rather than relying upon private insurance providers. The government would hire an outside firm to administer the claims to avoid the expense of training and hiring examiners.

The report makes clear, however, that such a fundamental change to the system would face a battle from the insurance industry. AIG dominates the market for the insurance, which exploded from an $18 million a business to more than $400 million per year after civilian contractors flooded into war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report said.

AIG controls about 75% of the market, followed by Chicago-based CNA and Bermuda-based ACE Group. Together, the three firms collect 97% of all premiums paid by defense contractors for the insurance, the cost of which is reimbursed by the government.

Changing to a self-insurance system “has the potential to have the most financial benefit, if implemented government-wide,” the report found. However, under the heading “Cons,” the report said that legislation to change the current private insurance system “has potential for significant political pressure from those most directly affected by such a change (carriers, brokers, etc.)”

AIG and ACE did not immediately return requests for comment. The industry has said that profits are reasonable and that claims are handled fairly.

CNA said it was examining the recommendations. “We are in the process of carefully reviewing and digesting the DOD report. As previously stated, we welcome changes and improvements to the DBA program,” the company said in a statement.

The chance for such fundamental reform is uncertain. The Obama administration has not put forth a specific bill, though the Pentagon and Labor Dept., which administers claims, worked together in producing the report. A Labor Dept. spokesman said Tuesday that the agency was not prepared to comment on the report.

In the House, Rep. Ike Skelton [3], (D-Mo.) chair of the House Armed Services Committee, called the report’s findings “interesting, surprising, and worth considering for next year’s defense authorization bill.”

“The House Armed Services Committee will closely examine the report as we seek ways to lower the costs associated with Defense Base Act insurance,” Skelton said in a statement.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin [4], (D-Mich.) would wait for the Defense Dept. to suggest changes in its spring legislative proposal, a spokesman said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings [5] (D-Md.) has announced plans for cutting costs and improving the delivery of care for contractors, but has yet to offer details. Sen. Bernie Sanders [6], (I-Vt.) has also called for change.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “The current system for providing health insurance and workers compensation for our military contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan is broken and wasting millions of dollars in payments to companies like AIG,” Sanders said in a statement. “If the Pentagon, the Department of Labor and Congress modernize the current insurance system, we can save up to $250 million and finally give these workers and their survivors the basic health care and support they need and deserve.”

In the absence of a major legislative overhaul in the next three years, the report recommends reforms to the current system of paying private insurance carriers for policies. Chief among them is a proposal that the government collect information on how much such claims cost.

Unlike state workers compensation systems, where rates are regulated and based on years of occupational injury data, the federal system for contractors relies upon individual insurance carriers to set rates. In the early years of the war, rates skyrocketed but the government had no way of determining whether such increases were justified.

The Pentagon tried to reduce rates by creating a umbrella program in 2005 in which one carrier, CNA, won a bidding contest to issue insurance for all contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The State Dept. and the U.S. Agency for International Development have similar programs.

While initial studies by the Army Corps found significant cost savings, the current Pentagon report said that CNA’s rates in the umbrella program were higher on average than policies purchased by individual defense contractors.

Using a formula which weighed factors such as the size of the contract, CNA charged contractors in the umbrella program 8.3% of payroll costs on average, while individual contractors paid about 5.3% of their payroll for the insurance, the report found. That means the Army Corps paid $8,300 to purchase worker’s compensation insurance for a civilian contractor making $100,000 a year, compared with $5,300 for a civilian working for a different agency.

“The department’s overall conclusion, based on its comprehensive analysis of the current DBA premium data, is that the open market—when it involves adequate price competition among carriers—results in rates that are lower than those in a single-provider program,” the report said.

No matter which program, however, the report found that insurance carriers “may be achieving significant” profit from selling the insurance.

The Pentagon attempted to determine exactly how much money private carriers made from the taxpayer-financed policies, but insurance companies refused to turn over any data, the report said.

Previous investigations by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that carriers made more than 50% profit from some polices—far in excess of normal workers’ compensation insurance.

Written by the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition and Technology Office, the report was based on interviews and data from industry players, including two insurance carriers, six brokers and seven defense contractors.

The Pentagon has denied [7] a Freedom of Information Act request by ProPublica to release documents submitted by the firms as part of the review, claiming that the information is proprietary business data.

A recent insurance industry study [8] confirmed that companies paid far more for workers compensation insurance in Iraq and Afghanistan than other countries. The higher rates have drawn criticism since the government reimburses carriers for the cost of combat injuries.

Posted in AIG and CNA | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Appeals Court Sends Contractors Case to Court

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 15, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — The case of a Texas woman who alleges she was gang-raped by co-workers while working for a military contractor in Iraq will go to court.

A three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Tuesday that Jamie Leigh Jones’ claims against Halliburton Co., former subsidiary KBR and several affiliates can be tried in open court. The companies contended Jones signed an agreement that requires all of her claims against the companies to be resolved privately through arbitration.

The Associated Press usually does not identify people alleging sexual assault, but Jones’ face and name have been broadcast in media reports and on her Web site. She also described her allegations in testimony before a congressional subcommittee.

Halliburton and KBR are headquartered in Houston.

Original Story here

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Wartime Contracting in Afganistan and Iraq Airs on C Span today

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 14, 2009

Witnesses testify on the U.S. State Department’s selection, management, and oversight of security and other contractors.

9:30 am  C Span 3

Summary

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Melt Down

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 13, 2009

Lucas Vinson was apparently shot by a soldier who was in a rage.

These incidences are occurring at an alarming rate even if you do not count the ones that have been covered up.

Have no doubt we’ll soon hear about all the clues leading up to this trajedy.

It’s a shame that the people sitting comfortably at a desk in  DC making the decisions to send soldiers and contractors with stress disorders back for some more don’t have to live with the results of their decisions.

How many contractors in the war zones are receiving VA benefits for PTSD?

How many soldiers and contractors are on meds for stress disorders?

Sadly we just cannot scream loud enough to make a difference.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

US Soldier in Iraq Arrested in Contractor Killing

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 13, 2009

Another case of a  good soldier with a “stress disorder” who finally has a melt down?

Lucas Trent Vinson Update

Update

KBR Employee 27 year old Lucas Vinson shot

BAGHDAD — A civilian contractor was shot and killed Sunday on an American military base in the Iraqi city of Tikrit and a U.S. soldier has been detained in connection with the incident, the military said.

The contractor was shot at 8:30 a.m. at Camp Speicher, the military said in a statement.

Houston-based KBR confirmed in a short statement that the man killed was one of its employees, 27-year-old Lucas Vinson.

Original story

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A U.S. soldier in Iraq was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of shooting dead a civilian contractor on the U.S. military’s Camp Speicher, its main base in northern Iraq, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The shooting took place on Sunday at around 0530 GMT, U.S. military spokesman for north Iraq Derrick Cheng said.

“A U.S. Soldier has been identified and detained in the alleged shooting incident of a civilian contractor here on … Speicher,” he said. “The civilian contractor later died of wounds. We offer our sincere condolences to the family.”

Speicher is on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, 150 km north of Baghdad. Cheng did not give further details of the shooting, which he said was under investigation.

In May, a U.S. soldier shot dead five fellow soldiers at a military clinic in Baghdad, an incident that triggered some soul searching in the U.S. military about the effects of stress on troops who do serial deployments.

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Undercounting deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 10, 2009

Undercounting deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan

Posted by: Bernd DebusmannUSA/

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

By most counts, the death toll of U.S. soldiers in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stood at 5,157 in the second week of September. Add at least 1,360 private contractors working for the U.S. and the number tops 6,500.

Contractor deaths and injuries (around 30,000 so far) are rarely reported but they highlight America’s steadily growing dependence on private enterprise. It’s a dependence some say has slid into incurable addiction. Contractor ranks in Iraq and Afghanistan have swollen to just under a quarter million. They outnumber American troops in Afghanistan and they almost match uniformed soldiers in Iraq.

The present ratio of about one contractor for every uniformed member of the U.S. armed forces is more than double that of every other major conflict in American history, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That means the world’s only superpower cannot fight its war nor protect its civilian officials, diplomats and embassies without support from contractors.

“As the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed, the military services, defense agencies and other stakeholder agencies…continue to increase their reliance on contractors. Contractors are now literally in the center of the battlefield in unprecedented numbers,” according to a report to Congress by the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In previous wars, the military police protected bases and the battle space as other military service members engaged and pursued the enemy,” said the report. In listing the 1,360-plus contractor casualties, it noted that criticism of the present system and suggestions for reforming it “in no way diminish their sacrifices.”

So why are they not routinely added to military casualty counts? And why should they? A full accounting for total casualties is important because both Congress and the public tend to gauge a war’s success or failure by the size of the force deployed and the number of killed and wounded, according to George Washington university scholar Steven Schooner.

In other words: the higher the casualty number, the more difficult it is for political and military leaders to convince a sceptical public that a war is worth fighting, particularly a war that promises to be long, such as the conflict in Afghanistan. Polls show that a majority of Americans already think the Afghan war is not worth fighting.

Figures on deaths and injuries among the vast ranks of civilians in war zones are tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor on the basis of claims under an insurance policy, the Defense Base Act, which all U.S. contracting companies and subcontractors must take out for the civilians they employ outside the United States.

EXPENDABLE PROFITEERS, ROGUES?

The Labor Department compiles the statistics on a quarterly basis but only releases them in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. This can take weeks. The Department gives no details of the nationalities of the contractors, saying that doing so would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” under the U.S. Privacy Act.

Writing in last autumn’s Parameters, the quarterly journal of the U.S. Army War College, Schooner said that an accurate tally was critical to any discussion of the costs and benefits of the military’s efforts in the wars. What’s more, the American public needs to know that their government is delegating to the private sector “the responsibility to stand in harm’s way and, if required, die for America.”

Schooner wrote it was troubling that few Americans considered the deaths of contractors relevant or significant even though many of them performed roles carried out by uniformed military only a generation ago. “Many…concede that they perceive contractor personnel as expendable profiteers, adventure seekers, cowboys, or rogue elements not entitled to the same respect or value due to the military.”

That’s not surprising after a series of ugly incidents involving armed security contractors. They make up for a small proportion of the total (about 8 percent) but account for almost all the headlines that have deepened negative perceptions and prompted labels from mercenary and merchant of death to “the coalition of the billing.”

In the most notorious incident, two years ago, employees of the company then known as Blackwater opened fire in a crowded Baghdad square, killing 17 Iraqis. Five of the Blackwater shooters, who were working for the Department of State, have been indicted on manslaughter and weapons charges.

The Pentagon describes private contractors as a “force multiplier” because they let soldiers concentrate on military missions. Some of the actions of private security contractors could be termed a “perception multiplier.” Such as the after-hours antics of contractors from the company ArmorGroup North America guarding the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Shaking off the image of rogues became even more difficult for private security contractors after a Washington-based watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, accompanied a detailed report on misconduct and morale problems among the guard force with photographs showing nearly nude, drunken employees in a variety of obscene poses and fondling each other.

Whether contractors, even rogue elements and cowboys, should not be counted in the toll of American wars is another matter. Doing so would be part of the transparency Barack Obama promised when he ran for president.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 9, 2009

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.”

Aon Defense Industry Report 2009

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Contractor Electrocuted in Shower

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 8, 2009

Hermanson-web2

By KIMBERLY HEFLING (AP) – 1 hour ago

Contractor electrocuted in shower

By KIMBERLY HEFLING (AP) – 34 minutes ago

WASHINGTON — A State Department contractor apparently has been electrocuted while showering in Baghdad even as U.S. authorities in Iraq try to remedy bathhouse wiring problems that have led to the deaths of American troops there.

The contractor, Adam Hermanson, 25, died Sept. 1, his wife, Janine, said Tuesday. She added that a military medical examiner told her that preliminary findings indicate her husband died from low voltage electrocution.

Electrical wiring has been an ongoing problem in Iraq. At least three troops have been electrocuted in the shower since the start of the Iraq War. Inspections and repairs are under way at 90,000 U.S.-maintained facilities there.

Hermanson grew up in San Diego and Las Vegas. He joined the military at age 17, and did three tours in Iraq with the Air Force before leaving at the rank of staff sergeant. He returned to Iraq as an employee of the Herndon, Va.-based private contractor Triple Canopy.

Jayanti Menches, a spokeswoman for Triple Canopy, said in an e-mail that the company was saddened by his death but would not be commenting further until an investigation was complete.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood also offered condolences to the family, but would not elaborate further on the cause of death, pending an investigation.

Janine Hermanson said her husband took the contracting job so they would have money to buy a house in Muncy, Pa., where they were planning to live. She said she’d already moved there and was living with her parents.

The two would have celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary on Sunday.

“He was supposed to come back and we had a lot of plans,” said his wife, who also served in Iraq with the Air Force.

Besides three Iraq tours, Adam Hermanson served in Uzbekistan with the Air Force. His mother, Patricia Hermanson, 53, of Las Vegas, said everyone in her family was struggling to understand how he could survive four war tours, then die suddenly in a seemingly safe place.

“We all know that Adam was as strong as a tank,” his mother said. “He was in good health.”

For Updates on this story www.mssparky.com

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

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 6, 2009

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 blatant 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, hordes 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.

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