Defense Base Act Compensation Blog

The Modern Day DBA Casualty

Afghanistan becomes more dangerous for contractors

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on April 22, 2010

By Matt Kelley  USA Today

WASHINGTON — U.S. government contractor deaths in Afghanistan more than doubled last year as violence and American troop levels increased, federal government records show.

The Labor Department received at least 141 insurance claims for contractor deaths in Afghanistan last year, up from 55 in 2008, department records show. U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan doubled to 311 last year.

The department collects the claims figures as part of a workers’ compensation program that provides benefits for injuries or deaths at companies doing U.S. government work overseas. The program paid out about $200 million in 2008, up from $9.4 million in 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The increase in deaths in Afghanistan comes as tens of thousands more contractors are surging into the country while insurgent violence there spikes, said Doug Brookspresident of the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group of companies that provide security and other services in war zones.

The number of contractors for the U.S. military in Afghanistan rose by 50% last year to 107,000, according to the Pentagon’s Central Command.

DATABASE: A look at U.S. lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan

A State Department report released this month said “all westerners and Afghans associated with westerners are targets” in Afghanistan.

“Things are getting more dangerous in Afghanistan because insurgents are getting more bold,” Brooks said. “For contractors, Afghanistan used to be the place where you went on vacation, because it was safer than Iraq. Now it’s turned around, and Iraq is relatively safe.”

Still, Iraq remains a dangerous place for contractors — almost as risky as it is for U.S. troops.

The number of contractors killed in Iraq declined only slightly. There were at least 146 death claims for contractors in Iraq last year, down from 174 the year before. Meanwhile, U.S. military deaths in Iraq were cut in half from 313 in 2008 to 148 last year.

President Obama last year ordered more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban insurgency and provide better security for Afghan civilians. Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, said last week that nearly half of the 30,000 new troops have arrived.

There are currently about 99,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The Pentagon plans to withdraw all but about 50,000 non-combat troops by the end of August.

There is no way of knowing the exact number of overseas contractors working for the U.S., or precisely how many have been killed or injured.

A 2008 law requires agencies to track information about overseas contractors, including statistics on casualties, but that database is not complete, John Hutton of the Government Accountability Office told Congress in March. Also, the Labor Department figures may underestimate the number of contractors killed because some firms, particularly subcontractors, may not report those casualties.

The contractors provide a wide range of services, including building U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, guarding civilian officials and cooking meals for American troops. Deaths and injuries reported to the Labor Department include both war-related casualties such as from roadside bombs and other work-related incidents such as vehicle crashes.

Contractors’ survivors receive weekly payments equal to as much as two-thirds of the deceased’s pay up to $64,740 per year. Disabled workers can get up to two-thirds of their previous wages, subject to the same cap.

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