Defense Base Act Compensation Blog

The Modern Day DBA Casualty

Archive for December, 2009

Reality Based Justice ?

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 30, 2009

Judges consider new factor at sentencing

The judge said: “It would be a grave injustice to turn a blind eye to the potential effects of multiple deployments to war zones on Brownfield’s subsequent behavior.”

By AMIR EFRATI

A small but growing number of judges say U.S. military veterans should be treated differently from nonveterans when they are sentenced for crimes.

As more soldiers return home from combat overseas and end up in the criminal-justice system, a number of state and federal judges are deciding to show former soldiers leniency in light of their service. Some veterans are receiving probation coupled with psychological treatment, generally for nonviolent crimes that normally would land them in prison.

That is raising concern among some legal experts, who say singling out veterans for special treatment indulges criminal behavior and risks establishing a two-tier system of justice.

[Veteran] John BrownfieldIraq war veteran John Brownfield, shown in Mosul in 2006 when he was employed by a contractor, received probation for a bribery conviction.

Many veterans returning from war zones develop behavioral and psychological problems, which in some cases leads to alcohol and drug abuse — and crimes.

“We dump all kinds of money to get soldiers over there and train them to kill, but we don’t do anything to reintegrate them into our society,” says John L. Kane, a federal judge in Denver. Earlier this month, Mr. Kane sentenced an Iraq war veteran convicted of bribery to probation instead of prison.

Most U.S. courts don’t have rules on giving veterans special consideration, says Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University. But in North Carolina, if a defendant was honorably discharged from the military, judges must use that fact as a mitigating factor at sentencing. And in several states, including Tennessee and Louisiana, courts have ruled that judges are allowed to use prior military service to lessen a sentence.

There are no special courts for veterans in the federal court system. Current sentencing laws allow federal judges to take into account a defendant’s “history and characteristics,” though some judges choose not to.

But momentum for special treatment is growing. Since last year, about 16 counties and cities — from California’s Orange County, to three cities in western New York, have started veterans courts, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Three counties in and around New York City launched similar programs in July, and state legislatures have approved the formation of such courts in places such as Harris County in Texas and the state of Nevada.

The goal of the courts, which serve veterans of any era, is to keep defendants out of prison. Veterans are put into treatment programs for war-related illnesses, among other problems, that aren’t available in the prison system. Their probation includes rigorous drug testing.

After veterans complete treatment, some prosecutors’ offices drop the criminal charges as long as the veterans didn’t have a prior felony conviction.

Many veterans who get probation in special courts would almost certainly have faced prison time under normal circumstances, says Mark Kammerer, a psychotherapist for the Cook County State’s Attorney office in Illinois and the coordinator for the veterans court in the Chicago area.

Some legal experts worry the movement could result in special consideration for all veterans, regardless of whether their criminal conduct was influenced by their military service.

“What we think goes over the line is the creation of two separate systems based solely on somebody’s status,” says Allen Lichtenstein, the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada. “Police are under particular stress — should there be a court for them?”

Some prosecutors argue that defendants shouldn’t be able to use military service as an excuse for committing crimes.

John Cherry, a federal prosecutor in Mobile, Ala., who served in the military in Iraq, objected to a sentence of probation handed down earlier this year to a defendant who also served in Iraq. The defendant, Patrick Lett, had pleaded guilty to distributing illegal drugs in the U.S., during a brief period in 2004.

“I, too, lost soldiers,” Mr. Cherry said at a 2006 hearing. “I didn’t come back and sell drugs.”

The federal judge in the case, William Steele, who also is a military veteran, said at the hearing that Mr. Lett “is to be credited for his contributions to the United States Army, to his unit and, in turn, to this country.”

Taking military service into account at sentencing isn’t a new tradition. In the Civil War era, members of the military were routinely shown leniency by judges, notes Carissa Hessick, a law professor at Arizona State University. During the World War II and Vietnam eras, certain judges allowed criminal charges to be dropped if defendants enlisted in the armed forces. That practice is no longer allowed.

Sympathy for new veterans aided John Brownfield of Cañon City, Colo. The former U.S. Air Force firefighter pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe as a public official for illegally selling tobacco to federal prison inmates while working as a correctional officer in 2007, two years after he returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The federal prosecutor and Mr. Brownfield’s lawyer agreed to recommend to the judge that he serve a year in prison. But the judge, Mr. Kane of Denver, instead ordered a psychiatric evaluation and earlier this month sentenced Mr. Brownfield to five years of probation.

The judge said: “It would be a grave injustice to turn a blind eye to the potential effects of multiple deployments to war zones on Brownfield’s subsequent behavior.”

Write to Amir Efrati at amir.efrati@wsj.com

Posted in PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Help Wanted: Top Ten Worst DBA offenses of 2009

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 30, 2009

While there was no shortage of fraud, criminal intent,  negligence, or just plain meanness and disrespect  carried out against  injured contractors this year we’d like your help in remembering them here.

Recommended categories:

AIG and CNA and looks like Zurich needs to buck up, DBA Insurance Company Defense Lawyers, Our own DBA Lawyers, Claims Adjusters, Claims Examiners, ALJ’s, Dirty Tricks by Defense Lawyers.   Name names only if you have documentation but feel free to tell your story so everyone else will know what to look out for.

Include previous years offenses up to this point as this is our first edition.

Add your entries as a comment here.

Posted in AIG and CNA, KBR, PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Eight US Civilians Killed in Afghanistan Blast

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 30, 2009

Eight U.S. Civilians Killed in Afghanistan Blast (Update1)

Update Dec 31 9pm

The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees at a remote base in south-eastern Afghanistan was being courted as an informant and had been invited onto the base, according to a report.

Update Dec 31 7pm

Eva Golinger: At least eight US citizens were killed on a CIA operations base in Afghanistan on Wednesday … a suicide bomber infiltrated Forward Operating Base (FOL) Chapman located in the eastern province of Khost, which was a CIA center of operations and surveillance. Official sources in Washington have confirmed that the eight dead were all civilian employees and CIA contractors.

Fifteen days ago, five US citizens working for a US government contractor, Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), were also killed in an explosion at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) office in Gardez. That same day, another bomb exploded outside the DAI offices in Kabul, although no serious injuries resulted.

Update Dec 31  11 am

The bomber struck inside what one U.S. official described as the fitness center of the heavily guarded U.S.-run post, which serves as an operations and surveillance center for the CIA.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and said the bomber was an Afghan National Army officer who had decided to join insurgents in attacking the United States.

Update 10pm Rueters

U.S. officials said the dead Americans — killed in a suicide bombing on a military base in southeastern Khost province on Wednesday — were CIA agents.

Update 8pm fromUPI

9 die in CIA facility blast in Afghanistan

Eight people were wounded, several seriously, in the explosion, officials said. Several sources confirmed to the Post the deceased and wounded were civilians, adding that most likely were CIA employees or contractors.

Update 5pm from UPI

While all of the dead were reported to be Americans, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan said none were soldiers and the attack was not on a military base, but at a facility tied to the U.S. Embassy.

December 30, 2009, 03:30 PM EST

Original at Bloomberg

By Tony Capaccio

Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — Eight U.S. civilians were killed today in a blast at an American military base in Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

Lieutenant Colonel Almarah Belk said the explosion took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province. Belk said she didn’t know what installations or agencies are located at the base.

The U.S. has been expanding the ranks of civilian aid experts in Afghanistan in parallel with the surge of military reinforcements aimed at the Taliban insurgency.

NATO forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician said the nature of the explosion is being investigated. The Associated Press cited a U.S. official in Washington as saying the Americans were killed by an attacker wearing a suicide-bomb vest.

Khost is located in eastern Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan

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

PTSD Hotline Suicide Prevention

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 25, 2009

Please do not hesitate to call this number.

You do not have to be a Veteran though

many of you are.  They are here to serve

families as well as the community.

Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-273-TALK, Veterans Press 1

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has founded a national suicide prevention hotline to ensure veterans in emotional crisis have free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. To operate the Veterans Hotline, the VA partnered with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Veterans can call the Lifeline number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and press “1” to be routed to the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Posted in PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lost in Limbo: Injured Afghan Translators Struggle to Survive

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 22, 2009

by Pratap Chatterjee, Special to ProPublica – December 17, 2009 10:11 pm EST
Farshad Yewazi (standing, far left in light camo), 23, was wounded during an ambush while serving as a translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. His insurance company failed to provide him medical benefits.
Farshad Yewazi (standing, far left in light camo), 23, was wounded during an ambush while serving as a translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. His insurance company failed to provide him medical benefits.

PAGHMAN, Afghanistan — Earlier this year, U.S. Army soldiers traveled to a remote valley in northeastern Afghanistan in hopes of improving relations with local villagers by repairing a collapsed bridge.

To implement this bit of counterinsurgency, the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment relied upon Farshad Yewazi, a 23-year-old Afghan who served as their translator. He took pride in his role, believing that he was helping his fellow Afghans in helping the Americans’ humanitarian efforts.

Translators offer the villagers humanitarian aid “and help kick enemies out of the area,” said Yewazi, whose family comes from the surrounding province of Kunar, one of the most war-torn regions of Afghanistan and a rumored hiding place of Osama Bin Laden.

But soon after the soldiers of Charlie Company dismounted their vehicles in the small village of Senzo on May 9, Yewazi sensed something was amiss. It was too late — an unmistakable “pop-pop” rang out, followed by a volley of rocket-propelled grenades. They had walked into an ambush.

As the soldiers returned the fire, Yewazi hit the ground but was wounded. A rocket-propelled grenade tore most of the flesh off his right arm. “I cannot even tell you how much pain I was in,” said the soft-spoken translator, wincing as he recalled the incident more than five months later. “I still cannot believe I could even tolerate it.”

Yewazi had just become one of the hidden casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military uses defense contractors to hire local residents to serve as translators for the troops. These local translators often live, sleep and eat with soldiers. And yet when they are wounded, they are often ignored by the U.S. system designed to provide them medical care and disability benefits, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times and ProPublica.

In Afghanistan, the system’s flaws are becoming increasingly apparent as President Obama has flooded tens of thousands of additional forces into the country, requiring hundreds of new translators. Afghanistan’s difficult terrain, poor communications and rudimentary infrastructure have made the delivery of promised benefits uneven, with some injured translators going months without payments.

Even when the system works, however, troubles remain. Injured Afghans have often been forced to flee after becoming targets for Taliban insurgents. Those who seek refuge in the U.S. have found themselves having to scramble to make any kind of living in the recession-wracked American economy.

Bashir Ahmedzai was a surgeon from Kabul who landed a job working as an interpreter at a U.S. military hospital in 2004. After his foot was injured in a vehicle explosion in 2007, he fled to the U.S., where he eventually found work as ”housekeeper” at a military hospital in Texas.

“I speak six languages and I am a qualified general surgeon. But I couldn’t make enough money to support myself. I had to ask my family to send me money from Afghanistan to survive,” Ahmedzai said.

The system, which is regulated by the Labor Department under a law known as the Defense Base Act [1], requires defense contractors in war zones to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. Paid for by taxpayers as part of the contract price, the policies are designed to pay for medical care and wages lost to injuries.

In Yewazi’s case, however, his insurance company failed to provide him medical benefits to cover the cost of his health care. Instead, he was treated by U.S. military doctors at the scene and later at Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan.

Nor did the company, Zurich Financial Services of Switzerland, make disability payments to Yewazi. More than six months after the attack, Yewazi’s right hand remains crippled; he cannot eat, write or pick up anything with it. While doctors say he may eventually regain use of the hand, for now, he is trying to adjust to doing these tasks with his left.

Yewazi’s employer, Ohio-based Mission Essential Personnel, or MEP, is the primary provider of translators in Afghanistan under a five-year, $414-million contract to supply nearly 1,700 translators to the military. The company pays local translators about $900 a month to accompany troops.

In response to questions on the case, MEP acknowledged that Zurich had failed to provide Yewazi with benefits. MEP said it was working to overhaul its claims processing system to make sure that Yewazi and other injured interpreters were paid their full benefits.

“MEP regards all its linguists, whether a foreign national or U.S. hire, as colleagues and heroes,” Sean Rushton, an MEP spokesman, said in an e-mail response to ProPublica.

Zurich declined to comment on any individual case. The Swiss company has historically had a tiny share of the market for the specialized war zone insurance, which is dominated by troubled industry giant AIG. In recent years, however, Zurich has increased its market share, according to one recent industry study.

Such policies are extraordinarily lucrative. Some firms have reported profits as high as 50 percent — compared to ordinary worker’s compensation policies, which often provide only 1 percent to 2 percent profit. All told, taxpayers have paid more than $1.5 billion for war zone policies since 2002, according to Congressional investigators.

“Zurich works to ensure each customer claim is given the utmost attention, which includes gathering and understanding the necessary information,” Steven McKay, a Zurich spokesman, said in a statement.

The Labor Department, charged with ensuring the delivery of benefits, said in a statement that it was unable to police the system. The agency has no personnel deployed to Afghanistan to make sure claims are paid. It also does not publish notices in any Afghan dialect informing workers of their rights.

“We realize that some overseas claims may not receive the same level of medical care and personal claim interactions as domestic U.S. workers receive, however, we believe that in general most workers are receiving appropriate care,” the statement said.

However, interviews with a dozen former MEP interpreters and their families show that Yewazi’s tale is not unusual. Injured translators and the families of those killed have waited months for payments, lost in a bureaucratic maze.

For example, Basir “Steve” Ahmed was returning from a bomb-clearing mission in Khogyani district in northeastern Afghanistan in October 2008 when a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-filled vehicle nearby. His right hand was torn apart by shrapnel.

Although the military doctors at Bagram were able to graft skin onto his burns, he is still unable to lift his hand to feed himself. Ahmed returned to work, but three months after the bombing, he was fired for coming late to work.

Ahmed continued to get a partial salary for about six months after his injury. Nine months after his injury he was given a $10,000 compensation payment. After his firing was reported in CorpWatch, a nonprofit focused on corporate accountability, MEP offered him his job back.

Other translators have reported faster compensation. Abdul Hameed, a translator from Jalalabad who has worked for MEP since May 2009, was injured by a home-made bomb on August 18, 2009, in Logar province, shattering his heel. The following day, MEP officials visited him in the hospital and by the end of the month he was receiving disability pay of $110.01 a week — barely enough to pay for his medical expenses.

MEP executives said they had decided to conduct an internal audit of their insurance contract with Zurich. The company human resources chief traveled to Kabul recently to review claims from injured contractors and found scores of backlogged cases.

“When she arrived, there were over 170 outstanding claims; today there are about 80,” Rushton said. “We’re committed to getting the backlog to zero and keeping it down with process reforms.”

Yewazi’s case is an example of how easy it is for an injured local translator to slip through the cracks.

In late October, at his parent’s simple home in the hills of Paghman, Yewazi showed this reporter his medical reports as well as an array of photographs, certificates and letters of recommendations from his three years with the U.S. military.

There are dozens of pictures of him in the snow-covered high mountains of eastern Afghanistan surrounded by gun-toting Special Forces. Other pictures show him sitting down with the troops to help them communicate with village elders.

His most prized possession is a letter from Charlie Company, dated May 9th, 2009, the day he was injured. Written by Captain James Stultz, it reads: “Farshad. We are hope you are doing well. We have been thinking about you and hope that the doctors are treating you well. If you need anything, let us know. You have risked your life to help us and almost paid the ultimate sacrifice. You are a brave man and we hope you heal quickly.” Under Stultz’s signature, another 20-odd soldiers and translators have co-signed and added get-well comments.

Yewazi said he had repeatedly attempted to contact MEP and Zurich representatives for help after his injury without success. After this reporter sent MEP a request for information on Yewazi’s case, an MEP official called Yewazi within 24 hours and promised to expedite his claim with Zurich.

MEP’s Rushton says that they hope that the new system of “reaching out to Zurich claims adjusters and investigators daily” will ensure that cases like Yewazi’s will not occur again. “We have requested a formal claims review from Zurich on all open claims to ensure all records match and claims are resolved,” Rushton said.

Second Hurdle: Death Threats

When word gets around about their injuries, many former translators face a much tougher battle — death threats from insurgent groups.

Ahmed Rashad Mushfiq lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb explosion. (Photo courtesy of Pratap Chatterjee.)
Ahmed Rashad Mushfiq lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb explosion. (Photo courtesy of Pratap Chatterjee.)

Ahmed Rashad Mushfiq, a 28-year-old former MEP translator from Kabul, sustained serious injuries in Kapisa province on April 29, 2008, when the Humvee he was in hit a roadside bomb.

The subsequent explosion killed the driver, Airman Jonathan Yelner, 24, of California. Mushfiq, who was sitting right behind Yelner, lost both his legs — one of which had to be amputated just above the knee and the other right below.

Mushfiq was provided with prosthetic legs, although he still needs crutches to get around. His proudest moment in his long road to recovery was at a memorial run for Yelner in October 2008, when he was asked to lead more than 500 runners and walkers in a symbolic crossing of the finish line of the three-mile course at Bagram.

Mushfiq asked his former military unit to get him safe haven at Bagram. His request to come to the U.S. has been delayed by bureaucracy. (Photo courtesy of Pratap Chatterjee.)
Mushfiq asked his former military unit to get him safe haven at Bagram. His request to come to the U.S. has been delayed by bureaucracy. (Photo courtesy of Pratap Chatterjee.)

Initially MEP assigned another translator to help Mushfiq when he returned home to Kabul. But when the second translator was approached by four young men who offered to pay him to reveal the location of Mushfiq, the amputee asked his former military unit to get him safe haven at Bagram.

When Mushfiq’s original unit rotated out of theater last year, however, U.S. officials told him he would have to leave Bagram. Mushfiq moved to MEP’s headquarters at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, where he worked for a few weeks doing desk work and attending physical therapy classes.

Then, he fell and broke his arm. The military asked MEP to send Mushfiq home, fearing that the translator’s mounting physical disabilities would impede his ability to seek shelter in case of attack. In July 2008, Zurich paid Mushfiq $125,000 in compensation. Immediately afterwards, MEP told him to leave the base.

Today Mushfiq lives in hiding. He is hoping to get a visa to come to the U.S., but immigration officials here have told him it will take at least another year until he is eligible.

Increasingly desperate, Mushfiq is now attempting to use Facebook as a tool to get out of Afghanistan. He has signed up as a fan of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Prayers for Our Troops!, President Barack Obama and even the American Conservative Republican Alliance.

On November 7, he posted an e-mail message to Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan: “Sir, I am living in Afghanistan with a lot of problems i applied for immigrant visa to USA but my case is still pending i beg for your help sir God bless sir.”

Third Hurdle: Emigrating to the U.S.

In late November, Mushfiq sent an e-mail to Staff Sgt. Ronald Payne, a military nurse who runs an intensive care unit at the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Medical Command at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

In his spare time, Payne heads up a volunteer project called the Allied Freedom Project [2] to help Afghan and Iraqi translators come to the U.S. Over the last couple of years Payne estimates he has helped some 500 former translators in the process of “immigration, reception and integration into American life” — including picking them up at the airport, arranging accommodation and signing them up for food stamps and other benefits when they land in the country.

Payne said that Mushfiq and other injured translators are stuck in bureaucratic limbo land because the U.S. has failed to fully implement the Afghan Allies Protection Act. The act, signed into law in March 2009, authorizes an additional 1,500 special visas annually for the next five years to employees and contractors of the U.S. government in Afghanistan “who have experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment.”

The new quota will add significantly to the 600 or so that have been authorized since the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001. (By contrast over 26,000 Iraqis have been authorized to settle in the U.S., a process that is well under way)

But even if Mushfiq is able to complete the immigration process, it will not be the last hurdle. Disability benefits are based on salary -– and since local Afghans made less than $12,000 a year, their disability benefits are in most cases beneath U.S. poverty levels.

Public benefits are also limited. Depending on the state, refugees can expect about six months of help in the form of food stamps and rent subsidies. After that, they have to fend for themselves.

“Welcome to America, you are on your own,” said Payne, who emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of the U.S. military. Without a job, he said, “They are screwed.”

From Surgeon to Used Car Salesman

Ahmedzai, the surgeon who injured his foot, traveled to San Antonio under the sponsorship of the Allied Freedom Project in July 2008. After six months, Ahmedzai was able to get a job at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in housekeeping, making $11.23 an hour.

Three months later, Ahmedzai quit and set up a business buying used cars to ship to Afghanistan. In the last six weeks, he has been able to clear about $2,000, allowing him to finally send $200 to his wife and six children.

“They ask me even today; you sacrificed your life for the U.S. army. Why didn’t they do anything for you? It is a shame for you!” says Ahmedzai, who says he is now looking for another part-time job so that he can save the money to bring the rest of his family to live with him in Texas.

This past Thanksgiving, he joined friends for the traditional evening meal in San Antonio. When it came to his time to give thanks, he was silent for a moment and then he finally said. “I am just thankful that I didn’t lose my leg.”

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance investigative journalist and editor at CorpWatch. He has written two books on military contractors – Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004) and Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books, 2009). He can be contacted at pchatterjee@igc.org [3]

T. Christian Miller contributed to this report.

Original Story here

Posted in AIG and CNA, PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

For AIG’s Man in Jordan, War Becomes a Business Opportunity

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 22, 2009

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – December 17, 2009 8:41 pm EST
Emad Hatabah
Emad Hatabah

AMMAN, Jordan—For Emad Hatabah, the war in Iraq became a business opportunity.

As AIG’s chief representative in Jordan, he was responsible for coordinating the care for hundreds of Iraqis who had been injured while working under contract for U.S. troops as linguists, truck drivers and other jobs.

He fulfilled his functions by sending business to himself, his friends and business associates, according to interviews and records. For instance, Hatabah created his own air ambulance service in July 2006, a company called Arab Assist, which AIG hired to transport injured patients from Iraq to Jordan, records show.

“They needed someone who has lots of connections. I’m a doctor with lots of connections,” Hatabah said during an interview at a hotel on a street crowded with hospitals and medical offices in Amman.

But those connections have raised questions about whether Hatabah acted in the best interests of the injured Iraqis or of his ad-hoc medical network. Taxpayers may ultimately pay the bill for such care under a U.S. law which allows insurance firms such as AIG to seek full reimbursement for the cost of treating civilian contractors injured in combat.

Hatabah sent scores of interpreters and other Iraqi hires to a Jordanian hospital called Al Khalidi, where the chief of the intensive care unit was a business partner and college friend, Nael Abu Khaff. He called it the best hospital to treat them. While they were waiting for care, Hatabah had the interpreters stay at hotels owned by friends, he said.

In an interview at Al Khalidi hospital, Abu Khaff confirmed his business dealings with Hatabah, but said that his hospital was chosen to care for the patients because it was one of the best in Jordan.

“We were the provider of medical treatment to these patients. I’m not an insurance doctor,” Abu Khaff said.

Hatabah also negotiated with Jordan’s immigration authorities to arrange for their visas, worked with local banks to set up accounts for the interpreters and obtained rehabilitation therapy and prosthetic devices.

Colleen Driscoll, a former official for defense contractor L-3, questioned Hatabah’s choices. For instance, Al Khalidi hospital is a well-respected local institution, but it has not been accredited by the U.S.-based Joint Commission International–the gold standard certification held by other Jordanian hospitals.

Hatabah also placed interpreters with no legs in hotels that had no handicapped access, Driscoll said, and their prosthetics were heavy and fit poorly.

“Hatabah was a businessman. It was all about making money,” Driscoll said.

Hatabah acknowledged that some patients were placed in a hotel that was not equipped to handle people with disabilities. However, he said he was forced to relocate the patients quickly by L-3, and that the facilities were upgraded as soon as possible. Hatabah also said the prosthetics that he purchased were top quality.

Jordanian doctors who reviewed medical records for some of the patients questioned some charges as high. The cost of most medical procedures in Jordan is set by a standardized fee schedule issued by the local medical association.

One record indicates that AIG paid $29,105 for two surgeries to remove stitches and other “medical expenses” for a patient whose care was being coordinated by Hatabah. Jordanian doctors who reviewed the bill said such charges would normally amount to around $3,500.

“They act like a team and they want to manage all this number of patients. This makes you suspicious,” said one doctor, who did not want to be identified for fear of offending AIG.

All told, Hatabah estimated that he had overseen the care for more than 400 civilian workers from Iraq and a handful of other nearby countries such as Jordan. Hatabah said that he worked under a “mutual understanding” with AIG in which the company paid him a certain fee per patient per day. He declined to reveal specifics, but said he made at most about $100,000 a year working for AIG.

He also said that AIG paid his doctors rates far above normal for Jordan. He said that AIG officials told him that they wanted to pay top dollar to obtain the best care.

Hatabah acknowledged that neither AIG nor the federal government had accounting mechanisms to oversee the network that he created.

“Is there a guarantee that I didn’t take a percentage? No, there is no guarantee other than my word. It’s my reputation. Is there a way for AIG to make sure that I didn’t get a percentage if I referred to Al Khalidi? They can’t.”

While AIG paid for Hatabah’s services, the company can seek reimbursement under a U.S. law known as the War Hazards Compensation Act.

The Act, passed in the 1940s, allows insurers to seek payment from the Labor Department for medical costs and disability payments associated with combat-injured civilian contractors. It also provides companies an additional 15% to pay for the cost of handling the claim.

As of May 2009, the department had paid AIG $5.7 million for 77 claims, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. It is not clear why AIG has submitted so few claims for reimbursement, given that hundreds of contractors have been injured or killed in combat.

AIG officials declined to answer specific questions. Hatabah said he had no knowledge of the War Hazards Compensation Act.

“I believe strongly that these people received the best we know, the best we can and without taking sides,” Hatabah said. “I do believe that AIG tried their best to give these patients good and fair treatment.”

However, Hatabah’s former clients have complained that he did not fully inform them of their rights. Under the law, injured workers are allowed to choose their own physician. Few Iraqi workers were aware that they had this right, and said they relied on Hatabah for care.

Rafid Kully, 32, was injured in a road accident while traveling with the U.S. Marines as an interpreter. He said the orthopedist brought in by Hatabah botched an operation on his foot, leaving him with a permanent limp. When he attempted to get treatment from other doctors, AIG denied his requests, he said.

In the interview, Hatabah said he had advised Kully against the procedure. He acknowledged that Kully’s surgery did not achieve its intended results.

Now living in North Carolina as a refugee, Kully continues to battle AIG for medical treatment.

“We thought our companies would help. We thought if you proved that something was wrong, they would fix it. But it was all about money. Nobody cared about us,” Kully said. “Everybody was happy with the situation. The doctors were making millions. AIG was making millions. The companies did not have to pay a lot. Everybody was happy. But us.”

Write to T. Christian Miller at T.Christian.Miller@propublica.org

Original Story here

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

Foreign Interpreters Hurt in Battle Find U.S. Insurance Benefits Wanting

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 21, 2009

Foreign Interpreters Hurt in Battle Find U.S. Insurance Benefits Wanting

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – December 18, 2009 4:42 am EST

This story was co-published with the Los Angeles Times [1].


Malek Hadi was working with the U.S. military police when a homemade bomb detonated beneath his Humvee in September 2006. It cost him his right leg and several fingers. Documents show AIG insurance withheld his disability benefits in an effort to force him to accept a lump-sum settlement. Left: Hadi in Baghdad. Right: Hadi in his Arlington, Texas, apartment (Allison V. Smith/For The Los Angeles Times.)

After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. military discovered that rebuilding the country and confronting an insurgency required a weapon not in its arsenal: Thousands of translators.

To fill the gap, the Pentagon turned to Titan Corp., a San Diego defense contractor, which eventually hired more than 8,000 interpreters, most of them Iraqis.

For $12,000 a year, these civilians served as the voice of America’s military, braving sniper fire and roadside bombs. Insurgents branded them collaborators and targeted them for torture and assassination. Many received military honors for their heroism.

[2] At least 360 interpreters employed by Titan or its successor company were killed between March 2003 and March 2008, and more than 1,200 were injured. The death toll was greater than that suffered by the armed forces of any country in the American-led coalition, other than the U.S. Scores of translators assisting U.S. forces in Afghanistan have also been killed or wounded.

An insurance program funded by American taxpayers was supposed to provide a safety net for interpreters and their families in the event of injury or death. Yet for many, the benefits have fallen painfully short of what was promised, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times and ProPublica found.

Interviews, corporate documents and data on insurance claims show that:

  • Insurers have delayed or denied claims for disability payments and death benefits, citing a lack of police reports or other documentary evidence that interpreters’ injuries or deaths were related to their work for the military. Critics, including some U.S. Army officers, say it is absurd to expect Iraqis or Afghans to be able to document the cause of injuries suffered in a war zone.
  • Iraqi interpreters sent to neighboring Jordan for medical treatment say they were pressured to accept lump-sum settlements from insurers, rather than a stream of lifetime benefits potentially worth more, and were told that if they didn’t sign, they would be sent back to Iraq — a likely death sentence.
  • Interpreters who have immigrated to America as refugees have ended up penniless, on food stamps or in menial jobs because their benefits under the U.S. insurance program are based on wages and living costs in their home countries, not in the United States. Payments intended to provide a decent standard of living in Iraq or Afghanistan leave the recipients below the poverty level in this country.

Malek Hadi was working with U.S. military police outside Baghdad when a homemade explosive detonated beneath his Humvee in September 2006. The blast tore off his right leg, mangled his left and sheared off several fingers.

Today, Hadi, 25, lives alone in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Arlington, Texas. He struggles to climb the stairs to his second-floor apartment on crutches. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but is not receiving treatment because his insurer has refused to pay for it.

Malek Hadi (Allison V. Smith/For The Los Angeles Times.)
Malek Hadi (Allison V. Smith/For The Los Angeles Times.)

He lives on $612 a month in disability payments –- the maximum available under the war-zone insurance system.

“When we were in Iraq, we were exactly like the soldiers,” Hadi said. “Why are we treated differently now?”

Retired Army Col. Joel Armstrong, who served in Iraq and was a leading proponent of the 2007 U.S. troop buildup, or “surge,” that helped reduce violence in the country, said Iraqi interpreters were crucial to the strategy’s success.

“Without them, you really can’t operate effectively as a force. It’s just impossible,” Armstrong said. It is deplorable, he added, that interpreters injured while assisting American troops have had to fight for benefits.

“Every American should feel terrible about it,” he said. “It’s a shame.”

American International Group Inc. (AIG), the principal provider of insurance coverage for interpreters in Iraq, declined to answer detailed questions on its policies or comment on specific cases.

Marie Ali, a spokeswoman for the AIG unit that sold the coverage, said the company “is committed to handling every claim professionally, ethically and fairly. In all cases, it is our policy to respect the privacy of our customers and claimants and not discuss the specifics of individual claims.”

Under a World War II-era law known as the Defense Base Act [4], companies working under contract for the U.S. military must provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees, both Americans and foreign nationals. The cost of the coverage is built into Pentagon contracts and so is ultimately paid by taxpayers.

The insurance system, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, once handled a few hundred claims a year. It expanded dramatically after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq because of the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on civilian contract workers to drive fuel trucks, cook meals and provide other support services.

Today, there are more civilian workers than uniformed soldiers in the two battle zones, and more than 1,400 contract workers have died.

Interpreters in Iraq were covered by insurance purchased by their employer, first Titan Corp. and later L-3 Communications, a New York defense contractor that acquired Titan in 2005. L-3 paid AIG more than $20 million a year in premiums, according to corporate records.

Once a worker files an injury claim, the employer’s insurer must begin paying benefits within two weeks or file a “notice of dispute.”

Interpreters who suffered the worst injuries, such as loss of a limb or severe brain damage, typically received compensation relatively quickly. That is because they were treated at U.S. military facilities in Iraq, where staff members documented their injuries.

In other cases, AIG often had difficulty establishing to its satisfaction that interpreters’ injuries or deaths were work-related. The company routinely filed notices of dispute while it investigated the claims.

“Even determining the facts of an accident – the location and the circumstances – can be a challenge,” Charles Schader, AIG’s president of worldwide claims, told a Congressional panel in June [5]. “Without sufficient information, examiners cannot make timely final determinations within 14 days.”

To pay death benefits, AIG required police reports or other supporting documents, according to former L-3 officials. Internal L-3 records from 2005 show that AIG examiners sent to Iraq were able to find documentation deemed necessary for benefits in only half the cases examined.

Colleen Driscoll, former chief claims manager for L-3, said that 10 percent to 20 percent of the company's Iraqi workers who should have received benefits were denied.
Colleen Driscoll, former chief claims manager for L-3, said that 10 percent to 20 percent of the company’s Iraqi workers who should have received benefits were denied.

“If you’re missing one piece of documentation, you got denied,” said Colleen Driscoll, former chief claims manager for L-3. “These guys get murdered coming and going to work, and AIG turns them down because they don’t have a letter from the insurgents.”

Driscoll, a former U.N. refugee official, left L-3 in 2007. She said the cause was a dispute with company executives over treatment of injured interpreters.

She and another former L-3 official, Jennifer Armstrong, said their experience suggested that 10 percent to 20 percent of the company’s Iraqi workers who should have received benefits were denied.

Armstrong said that in one instance, a slain interpreter’s widow and children had to live for months in the company’s compound in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad while they waited for death benefits to be approved. It was too dangerous for them to remain in their home, and they could not afford to relocate, she said.

“The Iraqis were looked at as second-class citizens,” said Armstrong, who now works for another defense contractor. “It just became a business. When it became a business, you lost sight of the goal.”

L-3 did not respond to requests for comment.

AIG arranged for many of the most severely wounded Iraqis to be transferred to neighboring Jordan, where medical facilities were better and interpreters did not face the risk of assassination.

Emad Hatabah, a Syrian-trained physician who had been medical director of AIG’s Jordanian subsidiary, exercised broad authority over their care. A medical evacuation company that Hatabah owned transported interpreters from the war zone. He selected their doctors and arranged stays at hotels and rehabilitation clinics.

Once their treatment was concluded, Hatabah presented interpreters with settlement agreements providing for lump-sum payments, in return for which AIG would be released from further liability.

Several Iraqis said Hatabah pressed them to sign and told them that if they refused, they would be sent back to Iraq. In spring 2007, more than a dozen interpreters sent L-3 officials a petition complaining of “bad treatment” by Hatabah and asserting that he had threatened to have them deported.

Ali Kanaan, who worked as in interpreter, suffered vision damage and burns to a third of his body as a result of a 2006 suicide bombing. Kanaan said that he was pressured to take a lump-sum payment for his injuries, in return for which AIG would be released from further liability. Now 23, he works at a cigarette store in Denver. (Photo by Matthew Staver/For The Los Angeles Times)
Ali Kanaan, who worked as in interpreter, suffered vision damage and burns to a third of his body as a result of a 2006 suicide bombing. Kanaan said that he was pressured to take a lump-sum payment for his injuries, in return for which AIG would be released from further liability. Now 23, he works at a cigarette store in Denver. (Photo by Matthew Staver/For The Los Angeles Times)

One of the interpreters, Ali Kanaan, suffered vision damage and burns to more than a third of his body as a result of a 2006 suicide bombing.

Kanaan said Hatabah offered him a $61,000 settlement on AIG’s behalf. He said that when he resisted, Hatabah told him that if he didn’t accept the lump sum, he would have to return to Iraq to pursue a claim for disability benefits.

Kanaan decided to take the offer.

“If you obey Dr. Emad’s rules, you’ll be fine,” he said. “If you don’t, you got kicked out.”

Kanaan later immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee. Now 23, he works 12 hours a day in a cigarette store in Denver. At night, he cleans the stove hoods in restaurant kitchens. The caustic chemicals irritate his skin grafts, he said.

Hatabah, interviewed in Amman, the Jordanian capital, said the interpreters received exemplary care. He denied pressuring any of them to sign settlements or threatening to send them back to Iraq.

Emad Hatabah
Emad Hatabah

Hatabah said AIG’s office in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, sent him settlement agreements and his only role was to witness the signing of the documents. He said that because he is employed by AIG, he took care never to act as the treating physician for any interpreters, in order to eliminate even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“I believe we did more than a good job,” Hatabah said. “It was a perfect job.”

Interpreters and other injured workers can appeal insurers’ denials through a dispute-resolution system in the Department of Labor. Ultimately, an administrative law judge decides the matter. The department must approve all settlements, and officials are supposed to review offers with the affected workers to make sure compensation is “adequate.”

“The whole purpose is to recognize that a guy who’s never had a $100,000 check in his life before is a sucker for a bad deal,” said Joshua Gillelan, a former lawyer for the department who now represents civilian workers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But few Iraqis know they have rights in the system, and interpreters interviewed for this report said the Labor Department never contacted them about settlement offers.

“Nobody called me or told me or did anything for me,” said Nazar Taei, 40, whose legs were riddled with shrapnel during a mortar attack in 2006.

After he arrived in the U.S. as a refugee, AIG offered Taei an $18,500 settlement, he said. He was dissatisfied with the amount, but accepted it.

“I told AIG, ‘Is this enough for somebody to start his life, who lost his job, a part of his life?’” recalled Taei, a Denver resident who recently enlisted in the U.S. Army and hopes to become a translator. “They said, ‘Those are the rules. We can’t do anything for you.’”

In at least one case, an AIG representative discouraged Iraqis from reaching out to the Labor Department. In an e-mail exchange last year, the father of an L-3 interpreter killed in a car bomb wrote to AIG, seeking to speed payment of death benefits.

The father, who revealed details of the case on condition of anonymity, asked an AIG examiner in Dubai about contacting Labor officials.

“I wouldn’t advice you to do so,” the examiner replied by e-mail. “You would be taking the full responsibility of the outcomes.”

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis
Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis declined requests for an interview. In a statement, the Labor Department said the increase in civilian contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan has posed formidable challenges for the war-zone insurance system. The department has no employees posted in Iraq, Afghanistan or surrounding countries, nor any speakers of Arabic or Afghan dialects.

The statement said Labor depends on insurers and defense contractors to inform workers of their rights and to report injuries.

“There is no way to accurately monitor compliance as the many levels of subcontracting to workers from around the globe makes such oversight impossible,” the statement said. “We understand and are concerned about the fact that we are unable to place staff at the front lines to ensure that all workers understand their rights.”

In this April 17, 2007, photo, Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Byrd of the 82nd Airborne Division talks to a Baghdad schoolmaster with the help of an Iraqi interpreter (center). (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In this April 17, 2007, photo, Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Byrd of the 82nd Airborne Division talks to a Baghdad schoolmaster with the help of an Iraqi interpreter (center). (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

After the homemade explosive blew off his leg in 2006, Malek Hadi was sent to Jordan for treatment. There, AIG offered him a $60,000 lump-sum settlement, he said.

Hadi rejected the offer and said he was deported to Iraq within a month.

He later returned to Jordan as a refugee. He had applied for disability benefits but was not receiving any, and he could not get an explanation from AIG, he said. He lived on handouts from family and friends while waiting for permission to immigrate to the U.S.

Internal AIG documents indicate that a claims examiner withheld Hadi’s benefits in an effort to force him to accept the lump sum. Hadi was “clearly entitled” to benefits, a different AIG examiner wrote in a memo dated August 2008. The company had not paid because the previous examiner “was trying to get the claimant to decide whether to settle his claim,” the memo said.

After arriving in the U.S., Hadi again contacted AIG, this time seeking medical treatment as well as disability payments. A psychologist working with a refugee agency in Texas had diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, Hadi’s prosthetic right leg was causing sharp pains and his damaged left leg ached constantly.

AIG formally contested the claim, saying that he needed further medical evaluation. This past summer, more than three years after Hadi’s leg was blown off, AIG began paying him disability benefits of $612 a month. The insurer still has not approved his request for medical treatment.

Hadi spends most of his days in his apartment in Arlington, Texas, watching Arabic television and texting friends back home. “I lost my leg. My life is broken,” he said. “For what?”

A favorite possession is a gold coin given to him by a member of the 89th Military Police Brigade after he was injured.

“Proven in Battle,” it says.

Write to T. Christian Miller at T.Christian.Miller@propublica.org

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, Contractor Casualties and Missing, PTSD and TBI, T Christian Miller | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Injured abroad, neglected at home

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 17, 2009

The Labor Department has failed to crack down on one of the agency’s fastest growing and most expensive programs–a system designed to ensure medical care for civilian workers injured in war zones.

By T. Christian Miller
T. Christian Miller is a senior reporter for ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom. For more information, including background documents and other information, go here.

This story was co-published with Salon [1].

WASHINGTON–In her first public address after taking office, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis promised to increase enforcement of laws designed to protect workers.

“You can rest assured that there is a new sheriff in town,” she told union members at a gathering in Miami Beach shortly after her confirmation in February.

Ten months later, Solis’ Labor Department has failed to crack down on one of the agency’s fastest growing and most expensive programs–a system designed to ensure medical care for civilian workers injured in war zones.

The department is responsible for overseeing a workers compensation system in which insurance carriers provide coverage to civilians working on overseas federal contracts. Such policies are funded by taxpayers.

But the department has failed to pursue sanctions against corporations accused of ignoring federal requirements to purchase such insurance, according to a ProPublica review of court cases, federal records and interviews with worker advocates.

The department has also taken no action in cases where insurance carriers allegedly provided false or misleading information to the federal government to terminate medical benefits for injured civilians–another potential crime under the law, known as the Defense Base Act [2].

The lack of enforcement has allowed carriers and contract companies to abuse the system by avoiding or blocking payments, forcing contractors to spend months and sometimes years battling carriers in court for benefits, claimants and their attorneys said.

“No one has ever been prosecuted for anything,” said Dennis Nalick, a veteran claimant’s attorney. “It’s like having a bank robber who gets caught, apologizes and then is let go.”

The department’s internal regulations call the detection of fraud and abuse the “highest priority” for officials overseeing the insurance program. Labor Department “personnel are responsible for reporting actual or suspected fraud or abuse, through appropriate channels to the Department of Labor,” the department’s procedural manual states.

But the ProPublica examination shows that the department has rarely deployed the tools available under the law to crack down on fraud and abuse–a record that extends back through Democratic and Republican administrations. Labor officials can recommend cases for prosecution to the Justice Department–but have only done so once in the past two decades, according to Labor officials.

They can directly levy civil penalties, but have done so sparingly. As of June, Labor officials have imposed fines in only about 50 of more than 36,000 cases processed by the two largest insurance carriers, according to an internal Congressional memo [3] obtained by ProPublica.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

In private conversations, Labor officials have told Congressional staff that they are not an enforcement agency, despite the agency’s internal regulations and federal laws.

One Labor official told Congressional investigators the agency was “at best a score keeper, not a referee,” according to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who conducted a hearing into the program earlier this year. (The hearing came after a joint investigation by ProPublica, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times [4], which found that civilian contractors had routinely been denied basic medical care.) Foreign-born civilian contractors often had received no benefits at all, despite law requiring the delivery of payments within 14 days of an injury, the investigation found.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Labor officials have the power to enforce the law, but have ignored their responsibilities.

“Under the last administration, there was virtually no oversight,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate’s Health, Education and Labor Committee. “Obviously, this whole thing has been a fiasco.”

In a statement, the Labor Department said it had recently imposed a series of fines on corporations that failed to report worker injuries as required by law.

The department indicated that it had fined Blackwater, the private security company now known as Xe, $11,000 for failing to report a worker injury for more than two years. KBR, Armor Group and insurance carriers AIG and CNA have also been fined in recent months.

“We are taking a stronger approach with respect to penalizing the failure to meet the requirements of the law and regulations,” said Shelby Hallmark, the senior Labor official overseeing the program. “We’re upping the ante.”

Nobody’s in charge

Passed in 1941, the Defense Base Act requires every company with an overseas U.S. contract to obtain health insurance for its workers.

But no single U.S. agency is fully in charge of implementing the program, which has exploded since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 1,600 civilians have died and 37,000 have reported injuries.

In theory, the Labor Department is the lead agency. But Labor officials do not issue overseas contracts. That responsibility falls largely to the Pentagon and a handful of other federal agencies such as the State Department.

When the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started, contracting officers with little experience in war zones began awarding bids to companies that lacked the required insurance.

The ProPublica review identified five companies that either did not purchase the required insurance, or which purchased the insurance, and then cancelled it. At least 33 employees have reported serious injuries while working for uninsured companies, according to Labor records.

One company, Strategic Security Solutions, Inc., failed to renew its insurance as recently as last year, according to court records. The company did not return calls for comment.

When companies fail to buy insurance, contractors’ medical care is put at risk.

Typical was the injury sustained by John Mancini, a contract specialist who found a job in Kuwait in 2004 with Procurement Services Associates, a small firm in Pleasanton, Calif., that did bookkeeping for larger contractors in Iraq.

John Mancini. Photo credit: Giulio Sciorio/GiulioSciorio.com
John Mancini. Photo credit: Giulio Sciorio/GiulioSciorio.com

Mancini was on his way home from work in Kuwait City in September 2004 when he was hit from behind by another SUV. Mancini smashed head-on into a concrete freeway barrier. The crash, at speeds of more than 75 miles per hour, totaled both cars. Mancini was left with severe back pain and difficulty walking.

Procurement Services had never purchased Defense Base Act insurance, court records show. Mancini was left to battle the company in Labor Department administrative courts to force them to pay his medical bills. Finally, after nearly two years of frustration and mounting pain, Mancini snapped.

On Oct. 6, 2006, Mancini barricaded himself inside his home outside of Phoenix and began calling 911 [5], making threats and bizarre demands, records show. When local police arrived, Mancini unleashed a barrage of gunfire. After a lengthy stand-off caught live on television, police managed to lure Mancini out of his home.

Mancini pleaded guilty but insane in summer 2007 to charges of endangering police officers and passersby. He was sentenced to 10 years in the Arizona mental hospital. (In August 2006, Mancini filed an affidavit at the request of this reporter as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain records from the Labor Dept. on injured civilian contractors.) He now spends his days going to therapy and reading books, locked behind high walls.

“It was against everything that I stand for,” Mancini said in a jailhouse interview shortly before being sent to the hospital. “It’s not like I’m a crazed maniac. I don’t shoot at police.”

Mancini and his family believed the standoff would not have happened, had Mancini been able to get help earlier [6].

Mancini’s neck continues to bother him, and he is scheduled for surgery next year. Taxpayers will foot the bill, although the injury stems from his work accident, said his ex-wife, Susan Mancini. Mancini hopes to petition for an early release, but he has no home to return to. Earlier this year, his house burned down in a case of unsolved arson.

“You hear about veterans’ mental health all the time. These poor contractors end up with nothing,” said his ex-wife, Susan Mancini. “To me, that’s a crime.”

Scofflaws Run Free

In an interview at his company’s offices in Pleasanton, Dan Plute, the president of Procurement Services, acknowledged that his company had not purchased Defense Base Act insurance.

Plute said he was unfamiliar with the law since his firm had not worked overseas before Iraq. Procurement Services paid some of Mancini’s medical bills, but stopped after a doctor hired by the company found that Mancini was fit to return to work, Plute said.

Plute accused Mancini of exaggerating his injuries to get disability payments. He said the Defense Base Act program was biased against employers.

“I don’t think the judge realizes the misery that his decision put me, my family, my employees through,” he said.

And yet under the law, Plute could have been charged with a federal misdemeanor or a fine. But Labor officials did not pursue such charges–despite admonitions from one of the department’s own judicial officials.

At a Labor Department hearing just before Mancini snapped, Administrative Law Judge Russell Pulver warned Plute that failure to provide coverage can result in “criminal liability.”

Procurement Services “has consistently shirked its responsibility to [Mancini] to furnish adequate and prompt medical treatment, apparently hoping that someone else will shoulder its responsibilities in this regard,” Pulver wrote. “I find this position untenable, if not outright reprehensible.”

Under the law, Labor officials are required to ask Justice Department prosecutors to pursue charges against company officials who fail to purchase insurance, a misdemeanor that can result in a year in federal prison.

But Justice has historically shown little interest in pursuing such low-level crimes. In a statement, the Labor Department said that since 2001, it had proposed one case to the Justice Department involving a contract company which failed to purchase the required insurance, but the case resolved before any action was taken.

The law “does not provide for fines or penalties except through criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice,” the Labor statement said. “That avenue is currently not available to us.”

Yet even when Labor officials have the power to impose penalties on companies for administrative infractions, such as failing to file timely paperwork, they rarely act, the review found.

Companies are supposed to file a notice with the Labor Department within 10 days of an employee’s injury. But in nearly 7,000 cases, the companies filed those notices more than a year after they had knowledge of the injury, according to an analysis of Labor Dept. records.

Yet the department has only fined only five companies since 2001 for failing to report injuries. “The current system…provides little incentive for enforcement,” the memo by Congressional investigators concluded.

In the U.S., at least the threat of punitive fines and possible criminal charges exists. For a corporation operating abroad, the Labor Dept. has no way to pursue scofflaws. And hundreds of companies contracted to work in Iraq are based overseas.

David Barnett, a Florida attorney who handles injured worker claims, has argued several cases in which foreign firms contracted with the U.S. government failed to purchase insurance. He said foreign companies face little incentive to cover workers since the Labor department does not pursue actions against them.

“If there are no repercussions to not having insurance coverage, why would you do it?” Barnett said. “It’s a huge problem.”

Falsehoods

The Labor Department has not done much better overseeing insurance carriers.

Under the Defense Base Act, it is illegal to intentionally falsify claims information. Violators face five years in prison or a $10,000 fine. Yet the government has rarely enforced the provision, according to interviews and federal records.

Insurance experts and claims attorneys said the lack of enforcement opens the door to abuse by insurance carriers. Civilian contractors have been forced to spend months, and sometimes years trying to get benefits restored after having payments cut on false grounds submitted by carriers, according to court records, injured workers and their attorneys.

Terry Marshall suffered back and hip injuries in May 2005 when he fell from the top of his truck while working for defense contractor KBR at a U.S. base in Iraq.

His hip shattered, he went through years of surgeries and rehabilitation. KBR’s workers compensation carrier, American International Group, faithfully paid Marshall’s medical bills and disability payments.

Then, this March, Marshall was surprised when AIG cut off his disability payments without warning. AIG told the Labor Dept. that Marshall had failed to attend a doctor’s appointment arranged by the firm [7].

The problem? AIG itself had cancelled the appointment, according to an email Marshall received from his case manager [8].

In an Feb. 2009 email, Terry Marshall is informed that AIG has canceled his medical appointment.
In an Feb. 2009 email, Terry Marshall is informed that AIG has canceled his medical appointment.
In this Mar. 24, 2009 Labor Dept. form, AIG cancels Terry Marshall's benefits, claiming that he had failed to attend the medical appointment, which they had canceled.
In this Mar. 24, 2009 Labor Dept. form, AIG cancels Terry Marshall’s benefits, claiming that he had failed to attend the medical appointment, which they had canceled.

Marshall appealed his case to the Labor Dept., which instructed AIG to reinstate his benefits. “There would appear to be no basis for the employer/carrier to have terminated” benefits, a Labor claims examiner wrote to AIG in April [9].

AIG simply ignored the notice, which carries no legal weight. Marshall is now in the final stages of negotiating a settlement agreement with the carrier.

AIG “can punch in anything it wants, and the Department of Labor accepts it,” said Marshall, 53, of Springville, UT. “I have to go in and prove that I’m innocent.”

AIG declined to respond to questions about individual cases. But the company denied making false statements. It noted that it had never been sanctioned by the Labor Department for such a violation.

“We do not make false statements to the federal government on (Defense Base Act) claims,” the company said in response to written questions. “Our claims personnel are held to the highest standard in handling claims ethically, professionally and fairly.”

Fred Busse
Fred Busse

If true, Fred Busse, 44, has a hard time understanding AIG’s handling of his claim. Earlier this year, AIG refused to provide Busse medical and disability payments for a neck injury he suffered while riding in a truck in Iraq in 2007 [10].

Busse “never reported this alleged injury to employer [11],” an AIG attorney told a Labor Department judge to explain why the company was denying the claim.

Yet Busse’s employer, KBR, had sent Busse to a doctor in Kuwait [12] to examine his neck, according to court records. And AIG had sent an investigator to Busse’s house, where Busse recounted his neck injury, records show [10].

Perhaps most puzzling of all, a Labor department judge explicitly noted Busse’s neck injury: Busse “injured his neck in an automobile accident [13],” the judge wrote in a decision involving a separate injury that Busse had suffered.

More than two years after hurting his neck–diagnosed [12] by KBR’s doctors, noted by AIG’s investigators [11] and litigated by a federal judge [14]– Busse finally won his case earlier this month. A Labor department judge ruled that AIG must pay [15] for Busse’s neck treatment and disability wages, records show. “No medical evidence disputes claimant suffered a neck injury during his employment in Iraq for employer,” Judge Clement Kennington wrote in his decision.

“They’re doing this to everybody,” Busse said. “They’re just trying to get rid of you is what they’re doing. Period. They’re trying to dismiss you.”

Gillelan, the former attorney for the Labor Department, said that Labor officials have a duty to report instances of fraud–when committed either by claimants or insurance carriers.

Over the years, however, staff has been cut back and successive Democratic and Republican administrations have emphasized “compliance assistance” over enforcement.

“They no longer have the personnel to be proactive,” Gillelan said. “They can’t even be reactive.”

Hallmark, the Labor official, said that today’s system depends heavily on checks and balances between workers and insurance carriers. Claimants’ attorneys and unions battle in court with insurance carriers, employers and their attorneys.

“This is an insurance-driven program. It presumes that the parties have access to the mechanisms for resolving disputes,” he said.

Hallmark acknowledged, however, that Iraq and Afghanistan lack the components which help protect worker rights. There are no unions for contract employees. Nor are there many attorneys who specialize in Defense Base Act cases.

“There are limits to what we can actually do in a foreign location that’s in the middle of a war,” Hallmark said.

Richard Philemon
Richard Philemon

Richard Philemon learned about the Labor department’s limits the hard way. He was driving a fuel truck for KBR in northern Iraq in October 2006 when he was hit by a roadside bomb. He jumped out of the burning truck, his face, chest and arms on fire.

“I looked like a Roman candle,” Philemon said. “I was surrounded by flames.”

After returning to the U.S. for initial treatment for his burns, Philemon flew back to the Philippines, his home. He repeatedly asked to be treated at Filipino medical centers. AIG adjusters told him he had to return to the U.S., but never paid for his flights, court records show.

After several trips to the U.S., Philemon decided to start treatment in the Philippines. In September 2007, he began seeing a rehabilitation specialist and a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. He also hired an attorney to force AIG to pay for his care in the Philippines.

Three months later, AIG cut off his disability and medical benefits. The company told the government that Philemon had “apparently abandoned medical care,” according to federal records–even though Philemon was seeing doctors regularly.

Philemon spent the next year living off money from relatives as he waited for his case to wind through the system. Finally, this February, a judge ordered AIG to pay Philemon’s disability, starting from the cut off date in December 2007.

“We put our lives in danger for our military. We supply them with water, food, ammunition, housing. And yet, we’re screwed,” said Philemon, an Air Force veteran. “I almost give my life for my country and I get treated like dirt?

“Something’s not right with that picture,” he said.

Write to T. Christian Miller at T.Christian.Miller@propublica.org

Posted in AIG and CNA, KBR, Misjudgements, PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Racketeering and Comp: When the Denial of an Injury is an Injury

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 14, 2009

Food for thought all of you injured contractors who have been denied by AIG and CNA.  We’ve been saying all along that these denials are criminal.

How many of you continue to be sent to Houston (from out of state to boot!) to see AIG’s hired guns for DME’s,  that they misleadingly call IME”s, over and over again?  Why would you travel out of state to do this when common sense and the law do not require you to leave your geographic area (50 miles).  Why do your lawyers suggest that you do?

Only the DoL can arrange an IME, an Independent Medical Examination.  If the insurance company, their claims adjuster, or their lawyer arranges it it is called a Defense Medical Examination.  Nothing Independent about it.

How have so many contractors lost their claims due to testimony by Dr. Griffith?

Another one from Worker’s Comp Insider

Racketeering and Comp:  When the Denial of an Injury is an Injury

Imagine you work as a commercial driver for a long-established trucking firm that self-insures for workers comp. You are injured on the job. You seek benefits under the comp statute. The TPA handling the claim refers you to a company doctor. The doctor determines that the injury is not work related. The adjuster for the TPA denies the claim. End of story?

Not quite. What if you shared your story with five other employees, all of whom filed comp claims, all of whom saw the same doctor (a family practitioner), with the same result: claim denied by the same adjuster at the TPA? A coincidence or a conspiracy?

Five employees of Cassens Transport in Michigan concluded that there was a conspiracy to deny their claims. They filed suit in federal court, alleging a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). A district court dismissed their claims, finding that their individual claims did not constitute a “pattern” of activity and that invocation of the RICO statute would violate the McCarren-Ferguson Act by interfering with state regulation of insurance.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reviewed the case and overturned the district court’s ruling. Now the U.S. Supreme Court, by declining to get involved, has upheld the Appeals Court. The Appeals ruling is a fascinating document which explores the nature and definition of racketeering, the relationship of workers comp benefits to insurance and the roles of state and federal governments. It’s required reading for attorneys and highly recommended for all others.

Criminal Acts?
The district court has been ordered to reconsider the allegations. The five Cassens drivers allege that Cassens, their self-insured employer, Tina Litwiller, a claims adjuster for the TPA Crawford and Co., and Dr. Saul Margules conspired to deny their comp claims. (While you might expect Dr. Margules to be board certified in occupational medicine, he appears to be a family practitioner.) The Appeals Court does not address the substance of the allegations: it simply rules that denial of the workers comp claims might involve a violation of the RICO statute and thus is appropriate fodder for the federal courts.

Some folks are alarmed that the feds are getting involved in what is usually a state issue. That might be a problem, but let’s not lose sight of the delicious prospect before us. During the course of the new hearings, plaintiff attorneys will seek access to some fascinating communication records: between Cassen and Crawford, detailing the status of individual claims; Ms. Litwiller’s claim notes; and communications between Crawford and Dr. Margules, who had so much difficulty finding a connection between a given injury and work. As much as I enjoyed the Appeals Court’s discussion, I am really looking forward to the nitty-gritty details of the proceedings in the district court. (You don’t suppose that some of the written and electronic communications have disappeared, do you?)

At heart, this is a very serious matter. The five employees allege that they have been unlawfully denied the protection of Michigan’s workers comp law through a conspiracy of company, TPA and doctor. If the allegations are proven, if the accused violated the RICO statute, they will face the consequences of a criminal conspiracy. In the Insider’s burgeoning annals of fraud – employee, employer, attorney, doctor, agent, insurer – this case will surely offer one of the more compelling narratives

Posted in AIG and CNA, Department of Labor, Racketeering | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Casualties not Counted

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 7, 2009

by Dahr Jamail
October 5th, 2006T r u t h o u t

The US Occupation of Iraq:  Casualties Not Counted

An anxious unrest, a fierce craving desire for gain has taken possession of the commercial world, and in instances no longer rare the most precious and permanent goods of human life have been madly sacrificed in the interests of momentary enrichment. – Felix Adler

See also Texas Circuit Court Rules Iraq War not Life Threatening

In all past wars the United States has been involved in, including the two World Wars, Vietnam and the first Gulf War, the military was self reliant and took care of its basic support functions like cooking, cleaning and other services.

That changed when the Cheney administration took control of the government in 2000. War has now been privatized, and the shining examples of this privatization are Afghanistan and Iraq. As you read this there are approximately 100,000-125,000 American civilian contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their jobs range from providing security to desk work to interrogating prisoners to driving convoy trucks to clearing unexploded ordnance. A year back, in November 2005, the US Department of Labor listed 428 civilian contractors dead and 3,963 wounded in Iraq – none of which are ever counted in the official casualty counts.

Employing civilian contractors supposedly saves money in the long run and, more importantly, frees trained soldiers for battle. The notion of low expenditure stemmed from the assumption that civilian contractors were hired for temporary/emergency engagements. This assumption no longer holds worth in the face of the current long-term (permanent) guerrilla war (read-Iraq and Afghanistan) without clear front-lines.

Given the astronomical profits posted by these defense contractors, in addition to widespread fraud and waste, it is difficult to believe that any administration would want to adhere to this model, unless of course certain members of that administration were financially profiting from it.

Those vague front lines stretch all the way back home, for it was at home that Tim Eysselinck became one of the thousands of uncounted and unaccounted-for civilian casualties in Cheney’s so-called war on terror.

Eysselinck worked for RONCO Consulting Corporation since 2000, and his last assignment in Iraq from August 2003 up to February 2004 was as the head of a de-mining team that was assigned to clear cluster bombs, land mines and other unexploded ordnance. A combination of this work, a perceived life-threatening airplane accident, and witnessing military personnel kill innocent civilians proved lethal for him. By the time he returned home to Namibia he was steeped in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Two weeks before his death, he told a friend in Namibia, “There was a lot of death and murder going on [in Iraq] that was just not right, and the only thing they could do was to follow orders.” He also told her, “I should go back.”

For nine years, Eysselinck had served as a captain in the US Army and was very proud to be a member of the Armed Forces. He had been commissioned as a Lieutenant of Infantry from the ROTC at the University of Florida on completion of his BA. He was a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic course, Airborne School, and was Ranger qualified. He had served as a Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer and Battalion Adjutant in a Light Infantry Division based in Hawaii. After four years he was promoted as Captain. Before leaving he gave up Active Duty. In 1994 he returned to serve with Special Operations Command Europe and was deployed to Bosnia, West Africa, and finally Namibia in 1998. Throughout his military career, Captain Eysselinck received excellent Officer Evaluation Reports.

LTC Nichols, Director of SOCEUR, wrote of Captain Eysselinck: “Absolutely outstanding. Top 5% of all the officers I have every known. Top pick for line Battalion Command. Performs exceptionally under mental stress.”

Eysselinck’s rating comments for his 1998 posting in Namibia as military liaison officer included the following: “Captain Eysselinck has once again demonstrated why he is on our very short list of Reserve Officers who can be relied upon to complete real world missions.”

He left the army in 2000 because his wife, Birgitt, had made that a condition of their marriage. But when he returned home from his time in Iraq, Tim was a changed man.

His mother, Janet Burroway, is a writer and academic who lives in Florida. In an earlier interview with journalist Rick Kelly, she described her son on his return from Iraq thus: “What he experienced had a shattering effect on him. There was absolutely no hint of the depression to come. But the anger was palpable. It was shattering to him, to come to feel that the war was wrong. He spoke of corruption, lies, greed and a brutish stupidity. At the time, I was so happy to hear that he had seen something of what I felt about the war that I didn’t stop to think about how deeply wounding that would be to him. He said that he was disgusted with the Bush regime, and that Bremer had screwed it all up with the Iraqis. He was always, almost glibly, willing to die for his country, and even saw himself as going heroically into battle. But that’s not what happened to him. He said at one point to a friend in Namibia that he was ashamed to be an American. I’ll say that any day of the week, but for Tim to say it represents such a huge turnaround.”

His wife Birgitt told the same journalist that during his Christmas break in December 2004, her husband had discussed the atrocity he was witnessing in Iraq. She feels this must surely have contributed to his PTSD: “He also said that another time they were driving behind, or with, a military convoy that just started shooting into the civilian houses. And he said, ‘Then they try to deny it when civilians are killed.’ And he said the military does not have to pay compensation, and he said it with sort of a smirk, like he was saying: ‘typical.’ They [contractors] were shot on at the site. There were improvised explosive devices placed alongside the roads that they were using, the sites where they were working. One of his colleagues was crippled by a blast – these are all things now that they are trying to pretend didn’t happen. They should at least write a certification that if somebody comes out of a war zone they [contractors] need to be debriefed. You can’t just let them back to an unsuspecting family and society. Back in Namibia, we weren’t prepared for this. We don’t even know what post-traumatic stress disorder is. If I had a clue about what it was, I would have sent him to a doctor immediately, because he had the signs.”

And like Tim’s mother, his wife too had noticed that it was a changed man who returned from Iraq. “There were changes. The biggest change was his sleeplessness,” she told Rick Kelly, “And he had this uncharacteristic hyper-vigilance – locking the doors, making sure both safety gates are closed. Tim was driving recklessly, physically trembling at times and repeatedly blinking his eyes. He was irritable, anxious and displayed uncharacteristic outbursts of anger on his last day. At the end, he was watching the news quite obsessively and writing to his men almost every second day, which I only discovered afterwards. He was asking how they are. When the Lebanon Hotel blew up, he writes, “Are you OK?” You know, this type of thing: “I watched the news with trepidation, I hope you take care. Worrying about you guys, hope you made it through the recent bombings.” He obviously had soldiers’ guilt, or survivors’ guilt, whatever you call it.

In a state of shock and disillusionment about a war he had previously supported, 40-year-old Eysselinck committed suicide at his home in Windhoek, Namibia, shortly after he had returned from Iraq on a three-month leave of absence in agreement with RONCO because he felt “over-stressed” after two years in Ethiopia and then Iraq.

It turns out that while working in Iraq, a major stressor for Eysselinck was the persistent attempts by RONCO headquarters to disarm him and his team in Iraq with a view to avoid potential liability. This had become an ongoing struggle, even after other contractors who had been unarmed were killed, ambushed and severely beaten. Eysselinck had threatened to quit if they disarmed him.

Five minutes before Tim killed himself, while holding up the US military-issued Iraq’s Most Wanted playing cards, he told his wife, “You get me professional help.” Birgitt had said in her interview with Kelly: “He knew something was wrong. Three weeks before, he woke up and said to me, “Something is wrong with me, I’m feeling down.” But what was I to do with that statement? Feeling down? I also blame myself in a way, because I don’t have any knowledge of depression, I know nothing about the subject. I mean this was a clear and obvious symptom. And then he said it again a week later – that he couldn’t sleep and was waking up three times a night.” Around noon on the day of his death, in the presence of the housekeeper, Tim said he was depressed. Later the housekeeper recounted she had seen him marching through the house like a soldier.

With Tim’s death began a nightmarish journey and legal odyssey for Birgitt. RONCO refuses to acknowledge that Tim’s work caused his PTSD and refuses to pay her any compensation for Tim’s death. She initiated legal action to qualify for support from the CNA International insurance carrier under the US Defense Base Act.

RONCO responded to her efforts to first establish Tim as a war casualty and then to get justice by not acknowledging any of it. Not only did the company turn a cold shoulder, they even went out of their way to discredit him, adding to her anguish.

It is important to note that among RONCO’s full-time employed staff of 90 US and 300 host-country personnel, the company has many ex-government officials, including a former USAID deputy assistant administrator, mission directors and retired senior military personnel. Their clients include USAID, the US Department of Defense and Blackwater. The company has been awarded contracts in Iraq worth well over $10 million.

Birgitt recently told me that three days after Tim’s death, she had received a call from Stephen Edelmann, the president of RONCO. “He expressed his condolences and wanted to know what happened and concluded that “It [Tim’s death] was nobody’s fault … it’s a defective gene.” Reportedly Edelmann had also said that RONCO was too small a company to have a pension scheme.”

Birgitt told me that RONCO sent a wreath to the funeral. Her disillusionment showed in her words: “This was the sum total of their assistance to a man who worked from them since November 2000 as a Deputy Task Leader in Namibia, then as Chief of Party in Ethiopia, and someone who finally put his life on the line to establish their projects in Iraq.”

Roughly three months later, Tim’s mother wrote RONCO a letter, with a psychiatrist’s report attached, requesting compensation from the company. RONCO realized it would not be able to wriggle out of paying $3,300 that they owed Tim for unused vacation time. To Tim’s mother’s claim they replied that Tim had been a valued member of their team and referred the family to a lawyer with whom to file a DBA claim.

It is also clear that RONCO has no debriefing infrastructure for their employees who return from Iraq. As Birgitt said, “The point is that they should have debriefed their people. They can’t send people into a war and then not take care of them properly. I sent a happy, healthy man to Iraq. We had no problems, no marital problems, no family problems, no money problems – no problems. So evidently, this [Tim’s PTSD-induced suicide] was caused by the war and what happened there.”

Five months before his death, on 16 November 2003, Tim wrote the following email to his stepmother:

“Talked to Ben tonight and he said that you were worried about me. Don’t, I have a deal with Birgitt that if things got bad here I would be brave and be a coward and run away. I would never consider this if I was in the military, but I’m smart enough to know that I don’t have to be here and I have way, way too much to live for to take anything but a well-calculated risk with my life. I have a son and daughter to marry off and both of them need me more than this place. So again, I’ll be brave and be a coward, if I feel that my security is really at risk. In the mean time, I’ve trained 100+ Iraqis that can maybe make a difference and save a few lives. You can’t really argue with that as an accomplishment.”

But his perception evidently changed after RONCO went operational in November 2003. That is when Eysselinck and his team of international trainers accompanied Iraqis to multiple task sites daily; going through checkpoints around Baghdad to do Battle Area Clearance of live munitions. On 10 January 2004, Tim wrote in his diary: “Everything crazy now. I hope I can make it home safe.” The diary entry included detailed doodles of bombs, rifles, aircraft, gas masks and rocket-propelled grenades.

Is there something we have forgotten? Some precious thing we have lost, wandering in strange lands? – Arna Bontemps

When the claims case came up, instead of taking responsibility for negligently causing the irreplaceable loss of a beloved husband, father and son, and apologizing for the severe emotional damage inflicted upon his family and friends, RONCO introduced into evidence a scurrilous fabricated attack on the character of its deceased employee whom they had themselves entrusted with their most difficult and profitable project.

Among other things, the deceased Eysselinck was accused of being rude, uncaring and indifferent; a military Ranger “wannabe” who “was only a tab wearer but never saw combat.” This depraved “defense strategy” compelled his widow to obtain statements from over 16 witnesses, including a statement from the Namibian Defense Force, in order to rebut the allegations made about Tim by a RONCO employee.

RONCO then hired an 82-year-old retired psychiatrist, who when interrogated admitted to not having read current research on PTSD, to falsely claim that the onset of PTSD symptoms occurs immediately after the traumatic event and that suicide is an outcome of depression rather than PTSD.

After their efforts to discredit Eysselinck backfired, RONCO set out to denigrate his work and the very nature of the war in Iraq. Two RONCO workers made the incredible claim that conditions had been far from dangerous in Baghdad between August 2003 and February 2004. They also claimed that Tim had not been exposed to threats. They made these claims, along with testifying that neither of them had seen Tim during that time. There was and continues to be overwhelming evidence from work reports in the country that are contrary to these fictitious and bogus claims.

It appears that RONCO is more concerned with evading potential liability and sustaining their profit margin than with the safety and well-being of their employees.

Tim was never diagnosed with PTSD before he died so there is no hard evidence that he had PTSD. The reason there exists no irrefutable evidence of his having PTSD is RONCO’s criminal negligence in failing to provide psychological screening and counseling to a staff member who spent seven months in a war zone.

According to the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, the suicide rate in the US Army in 2005 was the highest since 1993. Almost 1,700 service members returning from the war in 2005 said that they harbored thoughts of hurting themselves or felt that they would be better off dead. Over 3,700 said they had concerns that they might “hurt or lose control” while with someone else.

In July 2005, the US Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, announced that, according to a survey of troops returning from the Iraq war, 30% developed mental health problems three to four months after coming home. This is in addition to the 3-5% diagnosed with a significant mental health issue immediately after they leave the theater, and 13% experiencing significant mental health problems in the combat zone itself.

For decades, it has been an undisputed medical fact that the onset of PTSD is not immediate after the traumatic stressor. This is why the US Army has a policy to debrief troops on their return from the war zone and of checking back in with them six months later in order to check for signs of PTSD.

Tim’s family never thought they would have to prove in court the obvious fact that it was dangerous to work in Baghdad during the occupation and the truth that their deceased loved one had faced threats sometimes on a daily basis, not to mention that his job entailed handling unexploded ordnance. Tim worked on the task sites daily and was exposed to the very real threat of being killed while handling unexploded bombs and mines over and above the daily security hazards that all contractors in Iraq face.

Nevertheless, the judge in their case did not agree with the family and the professional opinion of their psychiatrist, despite the fact that the judge had found Eysselinck to have been “a person of high moral character much loved by family, friends and co-workers,” “patriotic, a perfectionist, polite and fiercely honorable,” and “a devoted husband and father who was respected by fellow workers and trainees.”

A human person is infinitely precious and must be unconditionally protected. – Hans Kung

And one is left to wonder how many more Tim Eysselincks there are in Iraq? How many more of them have returned home not knowing about PTSD or how to treat it? How many of their families are currently unnecessarily at risk from the often volatile behavior caused by PTSD or are left in the bereft position that Birgitt finds herself in?

Civilian contractors in Iraq, though they are paid handsomely for their time there, are easily lost in a legal no-man’s-land if tragedy strikes. Their families are then left in the lurch as well. With an estimated 100,000-125,000 American contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can safely assume there are thousands of stories similar to Tim’s and still counting. To each story is attached an individual and a family.

Posted in AIG and CNA, Misjudgements, PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Texas District Court Rules Iraq War Not Life Threatening

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 7, 2009

TEXAS DISTRICT COURT RULES IRAQ WAR NOT LIFE THREATENING

US district judge Melinda Harmon finally issued a decision in the Eysselinck case on 12 November ruling that “there was insufficient proof to the symptoms of PTSD because

1) the decedent had not been exposed personally to life-threatening events and

2) had not been diagnosed with PTSD prior to his suicide.

See also Casualties not Counted

There is more absurdity where that came from:

‘For example, the Magistrate Judge reviewed the ALJ’s supporting evidence for the lack of proof of PTSD such as

1) the lack of life-threatening events experienced by decedent and

2) the fact decedent did not receive any psychiatric examination before his suicide.’

There is really no point in arguing with anyone so far removed from reality as to make a judicial finding that seven months of exposure to a war zone is not life threatening.

It’s almost comical coming from people who live such a sheltered and privileged life.

But what is genuinely frightening is the fact that Harmon is the fourth civilian judge who endorsed this lunacy over the past five years and that she is a district court judge, not a mere administrative judge or magistrate dealing with misdemeanors.

This willfully obtuse ruling is the latest outrage in a concerted campaign to deny civilian contractors their rights under the Defense Base Act and pass off the costs and burden of war to injured civilians and their survivors.  The ramifications are many more needless deaths, violence and suffering for as many as 600,000 contractors returning from the war zones with mental and neurological injuries.

Is this a miscarriage of justice or rather a fair reflection of what society has come to believe, that going to war is much like playing a video game, coupled with the dismissive attitude of  ‘since I won’t ever have to go anyhow, who gives a damn?’

Judge Harmon hauled out a 1935 Supreme Court ruling (Del Vecchio v. Bowers) to further scale down the presumption in the Act [(d) that the injury was not occasioned by the willful intention of the injured employee to injure or kill himself or another].
The concepts of wrongful death, duty of care and criminal negligence have now been abandoned and death has become a clear legal advantage for the insurance industry since dead men can’t talk.  Have any misgivings yet?
The voluminous nonsense from Dr Carroll Brodsky (age 83), who had always testified against claimants and who repeatedly assured the ALJ that the onset of PTSD symptoms are immediately after the trauma does not constitute “competent evidence”.

It constitutes a felony, namely perjury and obstruction of justice not only tolerated by this judge, but also touted as “expert testimony”.  PTSD was only officially recognized in the DSM III in 1980.

She also ruled that neither the benefit review board nor the district court can reweigh or reappraise the evidence, in other words the ALJ (administrative law judge) is always 100% right, like some infallible deity.

All the ALJ needs is the deposition of one or two former deputy coworkers (eager to be promoted) that there was NO security threat in Iraq (Aug 2003 – Feb 2004), only bandits but not insurgents, to trump the overwhelming objective evidence to the contrary.

This includes work reports, media reports, company directives and the military’s own threat assessments, much of which is readily available on the public record.

Universally acknowledged truths and plain common sense are suddenly dead wrong.  The earth is flat again and seven months in the war zone is no longer life threatening, even when you have a price on you head.  Despite irrefutable proof in the record that Iraqi section leaders resigned because there was a price on their head, drawing the logical conclusion that the head of their American task leader would earn an even bigger price is too difficult for the robes to grasp.

Perhaps a trip to Dover air force base would convince them, but then again don’t count on it.

Not exposed to life threatening events?

Is this a sadistic sick joke just for the fun of dragging a devastated family through five years of vicious court battles?

Everyone knows that Mike Hartling (who replaced Tim Eysselinck) and Brandt Marshall  told a pack of transparent lies about Tim’s activities and threat exposure to the court, easily disproved if anyone had bothered to ask us or his Iraqi trainees or soldiers stationed at Taji or in the Green Zone.

We all know that he was out at the work sites almost daily; that he participated in clearance operations of live munitions and demolitions of mega-bombs and took the pictures.

Mike Hartling who falsely claimed clearance operations only started in March 2004) also kept quiet about events on the road trip from Baghdad to Amman in mid-December 2003.

Brandt Marshall concealed the truth about the deadly UN headquarters explosion in August 2003 during a demining press conference.  Their self-serving lies have seriously undermined every case of civilian contractors seeking treatment because the burden of proof re threat exposure has now become almost impossible to meet with this inane legal precedent.

Note to contractors:  Do NOT obey your non-disclosure statements, tell your family and get proof of injuries and traumatic events before they bribe your coworkers to deny what happened or change the paperwork, there are many such cases in the court files.

We have long ago come to understand that the government and judiciary view civilian contractors as disposable war mules but kindly spare us this pretense of justice and due process in the future.

We can really do without all the insults added to injury with blatant falsehoods endorsed as fact.

It seems the higher up the chain of justice one goes the more bizarre, biased and irrational the rulings become, misstating evidence in the record, disregarding favorable findings of fact (airplane incident; impulsive act, irrational decision etc.) disregarding the law (special zone of danger doctrine; section 20 presumptions) and just ignoring most important legal and factual points raised as “de minimis” – not worthy of the court’s time.

If the government doesn’t want to pay measly death benefits to the survivors of warriors any longer then at least have the decency to say so in plain language from the start; no need to breach our contracts and go waste everyone’s time, energy and money on these legal charades.

But most of all spare us your mind-boggling lies: war is inherently life threatening no matter what spin you try put on it. It’s self-evident that handling or just being in close proximity to unexploded ordinance in a war zone is especially life threatening, even when done occasionally.

While the government bails out the corporations who fight our claims with billions of dollars and grants them obscene profit margins (up to 500%) on our labor, the orphans of those who made the ultimate sacrifice get nothing at all. Let them eat cake; and foist your blame onto them to boot.

War after all is a cakewalk, at least according to these modern-day Marie Antoinettes.

The courts may be too busy to do justice and deem the preventable deaths of civilian contractors unworthy of their precious time but let the facts speak for themselves. These are just some of the exhibits the courts refuse to consider, just ask if you need more to make up our mind.
The jury is out, and those who actually spent time in a war zone decide if Tim Eysselinck was exposed to life-threatening events in Iraq or not. You decide if the corporations and insurance companies should be rewarded for failing to diagnose and treat their workers for the signature wounds of the war (PTSD, depression and TBI) that caused this tragedy in the first place.

Lets put a stop to the dishonoring of his memory, his sacrifice and life-long service to his country right here and now.

We are at the mercy of judges who have forsaken the sacred trust of fairness and objectivity, who cover up the truth and openly mock us, disparage our work with barely concealed contempt. Never again should this kind of travesty be allowed to happen with our silent complicity.

Let’s publish and be damned.

The Eysslinck case in it’s entirety with corresponding documents will be published here in it’s own forum over the next few days.

The original case can be found at the DBA X Files

Posted in AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Defense Base Act, Defense Base Act Attorneys, Defense Base Act Insurance, Defense Base Act Law and Procedure, Defense Base Act Lawyers, Department of Labor, Interviews with Injured War Zone Contractors, LHWCA Longshore Harbor Workers Compesnation Act, Misjudgements, Political Watch, PTSD and TBI, Ronco Consultilng | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Danny Fitzsimons hired by security firms despite ‘worrying’ psychiatric reports

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 4, 2009

Danny Fitzsimons was was first given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder in January 2004

The trial of Danny Fitzsimons, a former paratrooper, is due to
begin in Baghdad tomorrow.

By The Times Tom Coghlan

Also Read

The Defense Base Act’s Exclusive Remedy, Why Danny Fitzsimons PTSD was a non issue

A British security contractor who faces a death sentence if convicted of murdering two fellow security guards in Baghdad was employed by several British security companies despite psychiatric assessments dating back to 2004 that diagnosed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in him, The Times has learnt.

The trial of Danny Fitzsimons, a former paratrooper, is due to begin in Baghdad tomorrow. He is charged with the deaths of fellow security guards, Paul McGuigan, a Briton, and Darren Hoare, an Australian, in a trial that has raised new concerns over the regulation of the huge private security industry in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The psychiatric assessments of Mr Fitzsimons, seen by The Times, show that he was first given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in January 2004, while still serving in the British Army. Subsequent assessments by consultant psychiatrists in May 2008 and June 2009 reported that the symptoms had worsened.

The reports were commissioned by his legal defence teams when Mr Fitzsimons was facing previous charges of violent behaviour in the British courts.

The most recent report, which diagnoses full-blown PTSD, was made only two months before Mr Fitzsimons was sent back to Baghdad by the security company ArmorGroup. He is accused of shooting dead two fellow security guards during a drunken argument within 36 hours of arriving.

The reports detail a pattern of extreme behaviour, alcohol and drug abuse as Mr Fitzsimons struggled to deal with experiences he had as a soldier. In the report from January 23 2004, he told a consultant psychiatrist that he had not felt “completely well from a mental and physical point of view” since his service in Kosovo in 1999, when he was involved in the discovery of several mass graves.

The report details “unpleasant and highly vivid visual recollections of active military service . . . triggered by specific stimuli, including the smell of singed hair and the characteristic sound of dripping water”. The doctor assessed that one incident was particularly relevant: “He was ordered to explore a group of small, dimly lit buildings. Upon entry, he recalls seeing a heavy-duty deep freeze, the lid of which he lifted. Inside, he recalls seeing transparent blue plastic bags, through which the corpse of a male child, of approximately 11 years of age, was clearly visible. The limbs and head had clearly been dismembered and arranged.”

Four years later, on May 8, 2008, Mr Fitzsimons was again assessed by a clinical psychiatrist who diagnosed the symptoms of PTSD. “He does not sleep for more than two or three hours at a time,” the doctor wrote.

“His sleep is interrupted and broken by vivid dreams and nightmares about his past experiences. He has memories and visions of screaming colleagues, especially one who was burnt to death.”

Mr Fitzsimons reported that he suffered repeated flashbacks accompanied by fear and continuous anxiety. He also reported difficulties relating to people around him.

By June 30 2009, when the last assessment was carried out, Mr Fitzsimons’s symptoms had multiplied and he appeared to be struggling to cope with normal life. He told the assessing doctor that he had chronic problems with alcohol and drugs. The doctor concluded that he had PTSD and recommended therapy.

There was no response from Aegis or Olive Group to requests for information about Mr Fitzsimons, or any information on their vetting procedures for security guards.

A spokesman for ArmorGroup said that Mr Fitzsimons provided forged documents to the company about his physical and mental wellbeing.

Mr Fitzsimons’s stepmother, Liz Fitzsimons, said that they felt let down by both the Army and the security companies he had worked for: “ArmorGroup have told us that he told lies on his application form, but I say they should have done better checks. I am cross with the Army. He saw all these horrendous things, which turned him into what he is now, and then they didn’t want him.”

Posted in PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Turkey Shoot, another spy kids adventure

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 3, 2009

For those of you who have been stalked by whoever  AIG or  CNA hired to catch you eating a taco chip or something even more devious…… Enjoy

From our favorites at Workers’ Comp Insider

December 3, 2009

Turkey Shoot

William Wehnke, 51, claims to have spotted a wild turkey in his field in rural Annsville, New York (population 3,000). He took aim and fired at the turkey and managed to hit Matthew Brady, a workers comp investigator, who happened to be crouching in the field, dressed in camouflage. Brady was apparently performing surveillance on Wehnke, who is collecting workers comp benefits for an unspecified injury. Whatever his disability, Wehnke is obviously capable of operating a shotgun.

Local authorities are not buying Wehnke’s story about the turkey. He’s been arraigned on a three-count grand jury indictment that includes felony second-degree assault and unlawful manner of taking. He is even charged with using inappropriate ammunition for hunting turkeys. Wehnke is in a lot of trouble for his little turkey shoot.

Investigator Brady was hit in the side, back and legs. He underwent surgery and presumably filed his own workers comp claim for what is surely a work-related – if highly unusual – disability.

Images – Lasting and Otherwise
I could not help but think of the other Mathew (sic) Brady, the 19th century photographer whose iconic images of the Civil War still resonate with us. As pathetic as investigator Brady’s situation is, his earlier namesake fared even worse. After the Civil War, Mathew Brady found that war-weary Americans had little interest in purchasing photographs of the bloody conflict. Having risked his fortune on his Civil War enterprise, Brady lost the gamble and fell into bankruptcy. His negatives were neglected until 1875, when Congress purchased the entire archive for $25,000, which might sound like a lot, but was not even enough to cover Brady’s debts. He died in 1896, penniless and unappreciated. In his final years, Brady said, “No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives. The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life.”

The world may ultimately take little note of the suffering of the other Matthew Brady, wounded as he crouched in that desolate Annsville field. His life, too, has been significantly changed. But he at least will benefit from the wonders of modern medicine and the cushion of weekly indemnity, until he once again pursues his craft as a comp investigator. But the next time he is asked to don camouflage, he just might want to take a pass.

Original with comments here

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

The Implications of AIG’s cost cutting

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 2, 2009

“Claims will come in, reserves will be needed to fund those claims, and it is possible, if not likely, that there won’t be enough capital to fund future claims.”

From Managed Care Matters

by Joe Paduda

Eight months ago I reported AIG was buying business – slashing prices for property and casualty insurance coverage in an effort to hold on to current customers and hopefully land a bit of new business. Now comes a report from Bloomberg that analysts have confirmed what some brokers and most of their competitors have known for months – Chartis (the name of AIG’s core insurance business unit that’s been separated from the rest of the ‘old’ AIG) has been accused of ‘aggressive’ pricing by analyst Todd Bault of Sanford C Bernstein, a charge that’s been leveled for months by Chartis’ competitors.

Simply put, it appears that about a year ago AIG execs decided to cut prices on liability, workers comp, and some other lines of insurance to retain business and generate cash flow to prevent the company from going under. It worked then, but at a cost that’s becoming apparent now.

There’s a lot to consider here – the possible impact of AIG’s alleged pricing actions on extending the soft market; effect of underpricing on reserve adequacy; and consequences for the likely spinoff/sale of Chartis. I’ve discussed most of these topics here on MCM, but to save you the trouble of clicking thru, here’s the summary.

First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that AIG execs are denying the charges, with AIG Chief Financial Officer Robert Schimek claiming their rivals’ charges “reflect a big degree of frustration by the marketplace that they’ve been unable to unseat the Chartis organization in the vast majority of business.” That’s not exactly true, as AIG reported insurance sales dropped 13% in the most recent quarter while the combined ratio increased to 105.2, results significantly worse than those of competitors Liberty, ACE, and Chubb.


Reserve adequacy

Last winter, I heard from sources ranging from headquarters staff at large competitors to several brokers around the country that AIG was quoting rates for P&C coverage that had only a ephemeral relationship to the actual cost of risk. The sense then was AIG was doing anything it could to add premium, and thereby build up the companies’ financials. AIG’s desperate effort to add premium dollars, staved off deeper financial trouble, but as I noted back in March, “the shortsightedness of this approach will become obvious. Even more obvious than it is today. Claims will come in, reserves will be needed to fund those claims, and it is possible, if not likely, that there won’t be enough capital to fund future claims.”

Soft market
AIG’s pricing actions, to the extent that they were ‘real’, were but one of several factors contributing to the depth and duration of the current soft market
. But those actions can’t be discounted; as one of, if not the, largest writers of property and casualty insurance in 2009, any discounting by AIG would send tremors thru the entire industry. The company had long been known, and highly respected, for its underwriting expertise. When brokers and risk managers received quotes from AIG at very attractive rates, many likely turned to the other carriers bidding on their business and said something along the lines of “if AIG can charge me this, why can’t you?” Sure, some, or most, knew that AIG’s pricing may not have been realistic, but all’s fair in love, war, and insurance, and using one company’s bid to beat down another’s is common practice.

Chartis sale
According to Bloomberg, “AIG shareholders and the federal government face considerably more uncertainty than they may have anticipated,” Bault said. “AIG would likely have to take some kind of reserve charge” before selling its Chartis property-casualty business or holding a public offering for the division.” That sale will be a key piece in the ‘taxpayer repayment program’; we’ve kept AIG from going under, and if we are going to get our money back, a sizable chunk will have to come from the sale of Chartis. I noted last month that the disposition of AIG’s assets was proceeding rather well, and should have added a reminder about the pricing issue.

What does this mean for you?

If you work for Chartis, know that I wrote this with reluctance. As I said in November, AIG’s destruction was the result of poor management oversight and a wildly out-of-control finance unit. The women and men who work at Chartis and most of the other AIG companies do a very good job, work very hard, and take justifiable pride in their work. Here’s hoping their talent and abilities are enough to overcome poor decisions by their erstwhile superiors.

Joe Paduda’s blog and original article here

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

Misjudgements- The Zone of Special Danger

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 1, 2009

Welcome to our new DBA Forum

We’re no Lexis Nexis but we’re free and we’ll do our best to keep you informed on whats going on behind the scenes with DBA claims in the Department of  Labor’s Administrative Law System

Misjudgements

Today we have what appears to be another case of an Administrative Law Judge trying to change the law against the contractor.

This case also provides some interesting insight into payroll and safety practices KBR and Halliburton have been accused of indulging in.

“Claimant raised concerns regarding the computation of his pay, the adequacy of the employer-provided living quarters, and safety issues involving the manner in which electrical work was being performed.

Claimant stated that he was instructed by employer’s security personnel to get into a military vehicle.
Claimant stated that he refused to do as instructed because he did not think the trip to BAB was safe.  After two MPs arrived, the IG intervened but ultimately turned the situation back over to them, leading to repeated requests that claimant get into the vehicle.

Claimant’s continued refusal to do as asked prompted the MPs to take action. As one MP handcuffed claimant’s hands behind his back, the second attempted to put claimant into body armor. Claimant repeatedly resisted the MP’s efforts, and stated that before he knew it, he was on the ground. The MPs then pulled claimant up from the ground, placed him into the vest, and put him into the vehicle. At that time, he was driven to Camp Phoenix, where he immediately informed the MPs that his neck, shoulder and wrist were hurting. He was treated at employer’s clinic for these injuries.

The players:  Halliburton, AIG, an injured contractor

http://www.dol.gov/brb/decisions/lngshore/published/07-0810.pdf

As the administrative law judge’s denial of benefits
relied on his findings that claimant was at fault, or that the injury-causing incident did not directly involve employer or its personnel, it is in error. Given the totality of the administrative law judge’s discussion, it is apparent that his conclusion that claimant’s injuries are not within the scope of employment was inappropriately influenced by those determinations.

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

 
%d bloggers like this: