Defense Base Act Compensation Blog

The Modern Day DBA Casualty

Archive for May, 2011

Our Fallen Contractors in our thoughts this Memorial Day

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 30, 2011


Posted in Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Crisis Hotline takes record number of calls

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 27, 2011

Army Times   May 25, 2011

The Veterans Affairs Department’s Veterans Crisis Line received 14,000 calls in April, the highest monthly volume ever recorded for the four-year-old suicide prevention program.

“Every day last month, more than 400 calls were received,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairwoman who disclosed the call volume during a Wednesday hearing. “While it is heartening to know that these calls for help are being answered, it is a sad sign of desperation and difficulties our veterans face that there are so many in need of a lifeline.”

The hotline, established in 2007, is a suicide prevention and crisis counseling program available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is 800-273-8255.

Antonette Zeiss, VA’s chief mental health officer, said that since the 2007 launch, the call center has received more than 400,000 calls, referred 55,000 veterans to local suicide prevention coordinators for same-day or next-day help and initiated 15,000 “rescues” of callers near suicide.

Please see the original here

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, PTSD and TBI, Veterans Affairs | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

U.S. Insurance Firm CNA Neglects Survivors of Iraqi Translators, May Face Criminal Charges

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 23, 2011

U.S. insurer faces criminal probe over Iraqis’ unpaid death benefits

By T Christian Miller at ProPublica   May 23, 2011  and The LA Times

An administrative law judge has referred a U.S. insurance company for criminal investigation after the firm failed to pay benefits owed to survivors of Iraqi translators killed while working for the American government.

Under a federally funded program, Chicago-based CNA Financial Corp. provides insurance coverage to contractors killed or injured while working overseas for the United States. The slain translators were helping to train Iraqi police recruits.

Instead of paying out benefits, however, CNA withheld information from the federal government and avoided making payments to nine families who lost relatives in a 2006 attack, according to court files and interviews. One widow lost her home, unable to keep up payments after her son and other translators were ambushed by insurgents in the southern city of Basrah, one of her attorneys said.

In a ruling this week, administrative law Judge Daniel Solomon ordered CNA to begin making payments to the families. In an unusual move highlighting the government’s concern over potential fraud, the judge also told the Labor Department, which oversees the program, to investigate whether the insurance carrier should face criminal charges. A Labor spokesman said the agency would “fully investigate” the allegations to determine whether to ask the Justice Department to prosecute the case.

CNA said it was also looking into the case.

“We are investigating the matter and will take all appropriate actions,” said Katrina Parker, a company spokeswoman.

Attorneys for the families said they believe CNA withheld documents to avoid making payments.

“These were people who helped the U.S. in Iraq,” said Agnieszka Fryszman, an attorney for the families. “Their families were kicked to the curb when they were most in need of help.”

CNA’s failure to pay out benefits underscores the continuing problems with the Defense Base Act, essentially the workers compensation system for overseas federal contractors.

The system was little-used until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sent hundreds of thousands of private contractors onto the battlefield. All told, the government has paid out nearly $1.5 billion in premiums since 2001.

Reporting in 2009 by ProPublica, the Los Angeles Times and ABC’s 20/20 [1] revealed deep flaws in the program. Workers fought long battles for medical care, including such things as prosthetic devices and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Foreign workers, including Iraqi and Afghan translators, often did not receive payments or treatment. The Labor Department seldom took action to enforce the law. One official called the system a “fiasco.”

Congress subsequently held hearings [2] that showed that American insurers were reaping large profits from the program. Documents showed that CNA reported the highest profits margins, taking in nearly 50 percent more in premiums than it paid out in benefits.

The case decided this week began on Oct. 29, 2006, when insurgents boarded a bus and killed 17 Iraqi-born translators working in Basrah for Sallyport Global Services, a logistics and security contractor. The insurgents later scattered their bodies around the city.

Under the law, CNA was responsible for paying death benefits to the translators’ dependents. CNA paid when translators had children and spouses, according to interviews and court records, but not to other survivors. Several translators had no children, but supported parents or other family members.

In such cases, the Labor Department demands proof that survivors relied on contractors’ earnings. CNA hired investigators who interviewed nine families, confirmed their eligibility, and even set up bank accounts. But CNA withheld portions of the investigators’ findings when it submitted the claims to the Labor Department, court records show.

One CNA file shows that the slain translator had supported his mother, a widow, since his father was killed in the Iraq-Iran war. The town council even issued a statement of support, confirming the translator was his mother’s “sole provider.” Another CNA file shows that another translator killed in the ambush was sole support for his family, which “could be described as very poor.”

But those pages were missing from the information CNA submitted to the Labor Department. As a result, Labor officials accepted CNA’s declaration that there were no dependents to pay in any of the nine cases.

The translators’ attorneys at Cohen Milstein, a well-known Washington firm doing pro bono work on the case, estimated that CNA owed a total of about $500,000 to the nine families. Instead, CNA paid about $45,000 into a special federal fund set up to help support the workers compensation system.

The company subsequently recovered some of that money plus additional fees under an obscure law—the War Hazards Compensation Act—that allows insurance carriers to recoup costs for contractors killed in hostile acts, court documents show.

In one case, CNA paid $5,000 into the special fund and $518 to a translator’s family for burial expenses, but was reimbursed $9,289 by the federal government for investigating and handling the claims.

A Sallyport official said the company believed that CNA had made payments to all of the translators’ families except one, which declined to accept money because of security concerns.

In an emailed statement, the company declined further comment due to the litigation. It said it would “continue to monitor the situation and support the families within our remit.”

Posted in AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Defense Base Act Insurance, Defense Base Act Law and Procedure, Iraq, LHWCA Longshore Harbor Workers Compesnation Act, OALJ, T Christian Miller | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Two New Contractor PTSD Suicides this week

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 19, 2011

It is with sorrow that knows no bounds this evening

that we must announce that

the contractor community has lost two more lives


only five days apart

They were both former DynCorp employees covered by CNA under the Defense Base Act

Two families, which both include children, left with the horror and guilt that suicide leaves in it’s wake

Out of respect for these grieving families we are withholding details until a more suitable time

Please keep these families in your hearts and prayers

May our departed friends find the peace they were deprived of here


To those of you suffering from PTSD,  to those friends of these contractors suffering from PTSD, please do not wait for for your employer or the insurance company to fulfill their obligations.

Both of these deaths could easily have been prevented by proper screening and prompt treatment.

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Defense Base Act, Dyncorp, Injured Contractors, LHWCA Longshore Harbor Workers Compesnation Act, PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Senators Press for Burn Pit Updates from the Military

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 18, 2011

TAMPA BAY ONLINE  May 18, 2011

Armed with a new study showing military personnel deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq are eight times more likely to suffer respiratory problems than those who are not, two senators are asking the Department of Defense to provide an immediate update on what is being done about the problem of burn pits, which have operated in both countries.

Armed with a new study showing military personnel deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq are eight times more likely to suffer respiratory problems than those who are not, two senators are asking the Department of Defense to provide an immediate update on what is being done about the problem of burn pits, which have operated in both countries.

Democrats Bill Nelson of Florida and Charles Schumer of New York got involved with the issue after the December death of retired Army Sgt. Bill McKenna, who was born in New York but lived in Spring Hill.

McKenna, 41, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, died at HPH Hospice, of Spring Hill, from cancer he contracted after constant exposure to the thick smoke that wafted almost every hour of every day across Balad Air Base in Iraq, where McKenna was stationed about 18 months.

In bases across Afghanistan, amputated body parts, Humvee parts, human waste, plastic meal trays and other garbage are incinerated using jet fuel in large trenches called burn pits. The military halted the practice in Iraq last year.

Please read the entire story here

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, AWOL Medical Records, Burn Pits, Department of Defense, Exclusive Remedy, KBR, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Text of S. 669: Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act Amendments of 2011

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 17, 2011

A bill re-introduced in the United States Senate and backed by maritime insurers and employers

would substantially reform existing Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act procedures

and the benefits afforded injured and sick workers.

A Bill

To ammend the Longshore Harborworker’s Compensation Act to improve the compensation system and

for other purposes.

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Defense Base Act, Defense Base Act Attorneys, Defense Base Act Insurance, Defense Base Act Law and Procedure, Defense Base Act Lawyers, Defense Medical Examinations, Department of Labor, Exclusive Remedy, Follow the Money, Injured Contractors, LHWCA Longshore Harbor Workers Compesnation Act, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Claims to be Expedited

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 16, 2011

According to a Department of Labor’s DBA Claims Administration Status Report dated October 2008


A PTSD claim is presumed to compensible under the Act unless rebutted by substantial evidence

Fast Track PTSD cases through the dispute resolution process

ASSIST the parties to gather factual and medical evidence needed for claims resolution

Schedule informal conferences promptly on request

After Conference if OWCP claims examiners recommendations are rejected, refer the case promptly for hearing upon request.

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Defense Base Act Law and Procedure, Department of Labor, Dropping the DBA Ball, LHWCA Longshore Harbor Workers Compesnation Act, Melt Down, Political Watch, PTSD and TBI, Racketeering | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

KBR truck drivers awarded class arbitration status for unpaid overtime worked (docs)

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 16, 2011

by MsSparky May 16, 2011

KBR truck drivers win a major victory in the ongoing battle with KBR regarding being forced to work “off the clock”. The KBR management war cry of “84 and no more”, meaning a driver could only document 84 hours per week on their time sheet even though they were forced to work much more, meant drivers were forced to risk their lives and work for free in a profession with the highest civilian casualty rate in Iraq.

KBR truck drivers initiated class arbitration proceedings before Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc. (JAMS) on November 1, 2007, asserting that KBR breached their employment contracts with them and other employees by failing and refusing to pay them for all hours worked.

arbitrator, granted class certification Thursday to KBR truck drivers who said KBR Inc. breached an employment agreement by pressuring them to under-report hours worked under the military’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract in Iraq.

While most cases involving unreported overtime should be dealt with on an individual basis because they usually involve different supervisors giving different orders to different employees, the current dispute is not a “typical ‘off-the-clock’ case,” according to arbitrator Michael Loeb.

In the Certification Award, Arbitrator Loeb granted petitioners’ motion to certify a class of truck drivers and convoy leads who worked for KBR in Iraq between November 1, 2003 and the present.


The law firms involved with this case are:

Rukin Hyland Doria & Tindall

Skikos Crawford Skikos & Joseph

Altshuler Berzon

Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson

I hope other defense contractors are taking note. KBR has gotten away with these and other employee abuses for years, but it looks like it’s finally catching up with them and I do hope it costs them big. If I’m not mistaken, forcing someone to work and not paying them is and always has been considered slavery!

Where was the DoD in all this?  Why were they allowing this to go on?   Ms Sparky  

Please see the original post at MsSparky’s

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Iraq, KBR | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have a higher rate of debilitating respiratory illness than those deployed elsewhere

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 16, 2011

Shirley Wang WSJ May 16, 2011

Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have a higher rate of debilitating respiratory illness than those deployed elsewhere, according to a new study that bolsters concerns among some medical professionals and members of Congress about the potential harm to troops from toxic chemicals and dust in the Middle East.

The findings, which will be presented Wednesday at the International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in Denver, place renewed urgency on getting at the root of why some young, previously healthy soldiers have been returning from the Middle East complaining of symptoms including shortness of breath and dizziness. In many cases, the soldiers can no longer pass a required physical to continue with active duty.

There appears to be “a modest increase in the incidence of respiratory symptoms in those individuals who have returned from deployment to Southwest Asia,” said Craig Postlewaite, director of the Department of Defense’s Force Readiness and Health Assurance office.

Please read the entire article here


Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Toxic Exposures | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Young soldier hangs himself after seeing five comrades killed in Afghanistan

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 16, 2011

The Daily Mail UK May 16, 2011

A traumatised young soldier who saw five of his comrades die in action killed himself after becoming unable to cope with the loss, his friends have claimed.

The body Rifleman Allan Arnold was discovered by dog walkers on May 2 just hours after he had been out socialising with civilian friends while on leave. 

The 20-year-old, from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, was found hanged in a copse.

Close friend Andy Higgins, who had known Allan for six years, said he was unable to cope with losing so many close members of his regiment in Afghanistan.

Please read more here

Posted in PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Army Public Health Command won’t release health studies — or even the titles of studies

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 16, 2011

By Bryant Furlow on May 15, 2011  Epinewswire

The U.S. Army Public Health Command will not disclose epidemiological consultation (EPICON) studies completed in 2010 — or even a list of EPICON study titles, according to a Freedom of Information Act denial letter sent to epiNewswire.

“We consulted with the Department of Justice and concluded this request is too broad in subject matter,” FOIA officer Kevin M. Delaney wrote in a FOIA denial letter postdated May 5, 2011. “Therefore, we have denied this request.”

epiNewswire had requested the documents in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dated Feb. 15, 2011.

The FOIA request sought a list of the titles and dates of Army epidemiolgoical consultation (EPICON) reports conducted since 2001 and completed EPICON reports dated 2010.

epiNewswire also sought the titles and start dates of all incomplete EPICON studies.

EPICON studies are undertaken by teams of epidemiologists and other scientists, like microbiologists, when unexplained health problems or disease outbreaks occur in military populations. Typically, only two or three such studies are undertaken in a given year. epiNewswire is preparing an appeal of the denial decision and has filed new FOIA requests with the Army Public Health Command, for the alleged Department of Justice opinion and other correspondence.

The Army Public Health Command was involved in an internal 2010 study of Army soldier suicide rates that was held back as “a political hot potato” and reanalyzed, because of a finding linking combat deployments and suicide risk in soldiers — a link for which Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied there exists any evidence.
Other Army researchers’ health studies have been suppressed and censored as part of the Actionable Medical Intelligence (AMI) censorship program, epiNewswire reported in 2008. That program appears to be ongoing under the Obama administration, but the Army Public Helath Command has also failed to disclose any related documents over the past year, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Posted in AWOL Medical Records, Misjudgements, Political Watch, PTSD and TBI | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Few Troops Exposed to Bomb Blasts Are Screened For Concussion

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 13, 2011

And very rarely are contractors Screened for TBI

By T Christian Miller ProPublica and Daniel Zwerdling NPR  May 10, 2011

More than half of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan have been exposed to bomb blasts in the last year, but only about 1 in 5 of them said they were examined for concussions, according to a draft of a recent military survey [1].

Medical officials failed to screen about 80 percent of soldiers and Marines who reported being within 50 meters of a roadside blast during their tour of duty, according to combat troops surveyed in July and August of last year.

The survey noted, however, that the troops were quizzed before full implementation of a new military policy [2] in June mandating screening for troops exposed to such bombs.

The survey, which has not been finalized, but was obtained by ProPublica, NPR and USA Today, is conducted to assess the mental health and morale of America’s troops. Part of the survey examines the military’s efforts to treat traumatic brain injuries, also known as concussions.

Screenings for such wounds are important because concussions caused by blast waves are difficult to detect, yet may cause lasting cognitive issues, especially when soldiers absorb multiple injuries. Most soldiers recover within two weeks. But civilian and military studies have suggested that a minority of concussion victims, between 5 percent to 15 percent, go on to suffer cognitive problems, such as having difficulty reading or following instructions. Multiple concussions over a long period have been linked in athletes to a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has dementia-like symptoms.

Official military figures [3] show that more than 155,000 troops have suffered concussions since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many of them caused by blasts from roadside bombs, a common insurgent weapon. Nearly 50,000 others have suffered more severe brain injuries. Previous ProPublica and NPR stories [4] cited studies showing that as many as 40 percent of mild traumatic brain injuries go undiagnosed.

Overall, the survey presented a bleak picture of an increasingly dangerous war in Afghanistan. One extraordinary statistic: Near the peak of violence in Iraq in 2006, from 12 percent to 15 percent of troops responding to a similar survey reported killing an enemy. In Afghanistan last year, 48 percent to 56 percent of combat troops surveyed reported being “directly responsible” for killing a combatant—a more than threefold increase.

In addition, about 50 percent to 60 percent of soldiers and Marines in Iraq in 2006 reported that a comrade had suffered a casualty. In Afghanistan, 73 percent of soldiers and almost 80 percent of Marines reported having a buddy who was wounded or died.

The Army has struggled to keep up with flood of soldiers suffering from so-called invisible wounds of war, such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Last month, ProPublica and NPR reported [5] the Army is facing a “critical” shortage of neurologists to implement its new initiative to improve diagnosis and treatment of mild traumatic brain injuries.

At a hearing last June [6], Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, told Congress that the Army had a total of 52 neurologists, though only 40 were practicing—a figure, he said, that included child neurologists. “We’re an Army that’s in uncharted territory here,” Chiarelli recently told USA Today [7]. “We have never fought for this long with an all-volunteer force that’s 1 percent of the population.”

Please see the original here

Posted in PTSD and TBI, T Christian Miller | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Patrick Elkins of Clinton awarded Defense of Freedom Medal after being seriously injured while driving a truck in Iraq

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 12, 2011

Permanent nerve damage ended Elkins’ career as a truck driver, the only job he ever wanted. Battles with an insurance company halted Elkins’ benefits and forced him to drain every penny of his savings.

Herald Review  May 12, 2011

CLINTON – Patrick Elkins doesn’t dwell on the roadside bomb that nearly took his life in Iraq almost four years ago.

He would rather concentrate on his accounting classes at Richland Community College and the good friends he’s made since he was invited to come to Clinton, a town he had no ties to before the semitruck he was driving took a direct hit near central Iraq on July 14, 2007.

But the Army and Kellogg Brown and Root, the contractor for which he worked, did not forget the sacrifice Elkins and other civilian workers have made in Iraq and Afghanistan. So on April 22, the 44-year-old Elkins traveled to Houston, Texas, to receive the Defense of Freedom Medal, the highest military honor a private citizen can receive, an equivalent to a Purple Heart.

There’s a story behind the medal.

“It was so intense. It was all over before I realized what had happened.  My truck was blown to bits by one mean roadside bomb,” said Elkins, an Ohio native who hauled supplies for the engineering and construction contractor for about two years.

Military medics pulled Elkins’ paralyzed body from the vehicle and rushed him by helicopter to Kuwait, where it was determined his injuries were too severe for treatment, and then to a hospital in Germany.

“Behind all this is the thrill that you don’t know if you’re to make it,” Elkins said. But he knew he would after he moved one of his toes.

About two weeks later, during a shower, a piece of the shrapnel that had struck his neck and upper spine popped out.

Permanent nerve damage ended Elkins’ career as a truck driver, the only job he ever wanted. Battles with an insurance company halted Elkins’ benefits and forced him to drain every penny of his savings.

Don Durbin, a fellow truck driver in Iraq, offered to let Elkins stay with him in Clinton when he returned to the United States.

“I’m so grateful for his help and the grand offer he made,” Elkins said. The two lived together until Durbin married and moved to Springfield.

With his benefits now restored, Elkins is able to pay for a small, second-floor apartment in Clinton. A cot from his service in the Army 20 years ago serves as his bed. Several large metal boxes from his days as a long-distance hauler do double duty as storage and living room furniture.

“I knew exactly what I was getting into. The people who hired me were clear about the hazards. � This is what happens in a war,” he said.

When Elkins finishes his degree at Richland, he plans to move to Kentucky, living on property once owned by his grandmother, but he never will forget the friends who embraced him in Clinton.

“I will always owe them a favor,” he said. “How do you repay people who helped you smile again?”

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Defense Base Act, Defense of Freedom Medal, Delay, Deny, Department of Labor, Dropping the DBA Ball, KBR | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

How much does an Independent Medical Examination Cost?

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 10, 2011

An Independent Medical Examination as ordered by the Department of Labor or a Defense Medical Examination (Second Opinion) are paid for by the insurance company.

We’ve not yet seen or heard of anyone going to an Independent Medical Examination as ordered by the DoL according to the LHWCA/DBA.  There are guidelines to be followed for an Independent Medical Examination which ensure that the doctors are not insurance company regulars.

We have seen paperwork on DME’s on DBA Casualties starting at $800 and going up to $1,200 per DME.

Expensive for a single examination it would seem.  Often done offsite of the Doctors regular office if they even have one.

And the ante goes up if your exercise your right to have the examination videographed.   We do not mean the charges you will incur for the videographer.   The added charges are more like “risk coverage” or a deterrant to keep the injured from ensuring that the examination is fair.

Your DME is much more than simply the unbiased second opinion that it is represented to be.

The DME Doctor is an expert witness for the insurance company.

They may be asked to submit to a Deposition under oath or to testify in person on behalf of the insurance company for which they will be paid even larger sums.

The IME/DME business is a very lucrative one for those Doctors who choose to do them.

The Insurance Companies can afford them.

Injured Contractors and/or their attorneys are seldom in a financial position to deal with DME’s properly.

This is why so many of you are sent to DME’s by your very own lawyers with no advocate or videographer present even though these costs are legitimate expenses which would have to be reimbursed.

This is ONE reason why the Dr Griffith’s of the DBA have been utilized repeatedly even after being exposed under oath in depositions.

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Defense Base Act, Defense Base Act Attorneys, Defense Base Act Insurance, Defense Base Act Law and Procedure, Defense Base Act Lawyers, Defense Medical Examinations, Department of Labor, Independent Medical Examinations, Injured Contractors, LHWCA Longshore Harbor Workers Compesnation Act, Racketeering | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Uncounted Contractor Casualties

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 9, 2011

Your team here at the blog researches every news report or release both military and civilian, injured or killed, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Libya, Africa.  The Casualties that you will find listed here, The Civilian Contractors blog or at the ACIIA Memorial Page are the only ones we can find.   MsSparky keeps on filled on on the suspicious deaths. Less than 10% of the Casualties reported as Defense Base Act Claims are acknowledged.

Special Thanks to David Isenberg for putting this one together

Please see his blog The PMSC Observer

Of all the things said and written about private military and security contractors working for the U.S. government in various war zones one of the least discussed is the sacrifices they make. And like regular military forces they also pay the ultimate sacrifice, as in dying. Unlike regular military personnel their deaths rarely get any notice, aside from a company press release and a few paragraphs in the hometown newspaper.

Their sacrifices are so unrecognized that if Washington, D.C. were to build yet another war memorial on the mall The Tomb of the Unknown Contractor would have to be considered a viable candidate for selection. To paraphrase the old saw about regular military forces, one might say in regard to recognition of contractors wounded and killed, “nothing is too good for our contractors so that’s what we’ll give them. Nothing.”

Admittedly there is slightly better recognition of the wounded and dead contractors than when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq but that is not saying a whole lot.  There simply has not been much detailed analysis of this subject. That is why a recent paper strongly deserved attention. It is Dead Contractors: The Un-Examined Effect of Surrogates on the Public’s Casualty Sensitivity by Prof. Steven L. Schooner and student Collin D. Swan, both of the George Washington University Law School,  was recently published in the Journal of National Security Law & Policy.

In the paper they examine the “casualty sensitivity” effect. Economists define this as an inverse relationship exists between the number of military deaths and public support. Currently, most studies suggest that “majorities of the public have historically considered the potential and actual casualties in U.S. wars and military operations to be an important factor in their support.”

But Schooner and Swan believe this effect is being undermined by the use of contractors and merits reexamination. Sadly, the unrecognized fact is that

The military is populated by a “blended workforce” that integrates soldiers with private-sector contractor employees—comprised of both U.S. citizens and, to a large extent, foreign nationals—in every conceivable aspect of the mission abroad.” Not surprisingly, one result of this integration is that contractors are dying alongside—or in the place of—soldiers at unprecedented and (arguably) alarming rates. For the most part, this “substitution” has taken place outside of the cognizance of the public and, potentially, Congress.

Just how much risk are contractors exposed to? The authors note that on today’s battlefield, the ratio of U.S. troops to contractors has never been lower.  While the number of contractors employed by the military varied from conflict to conflict, historically, the ratio of contractors to troops averaged around one-to-six. Other than Bosnia, the last decade witnessed the U.S. government’s first sustained operations where contractors consistently outnumbered troops in the battle space. The Congressional Research Service recently reported that private security contractors are four times more likely to be killed in Afghanistan than uniformed personnel.

As a consequence contractors are inevitably bearing a larger portion of the casualty rate.  The paper notes that cumulatively, contractor deaths account for over twenty-five percent of total losses since the U.S. entered Iraq and Afghanistan. But even that dramatic figure understates the extent to which—in the last two-to-three years—contractors have increasingly absorbed the most significant cost of our military actions.

And despite the fact that U.S. troops have been withdrawing from Iraq and will do the same in Afghanistan starting this year contractor casualties are unlikely to decrease. A number of actions work against that. These include:

  • Secretary of Defense Gates plans to reduce the number of Army and Marine ground forces by as many as 27,000 troops within the next three years.
  • On February 1, 2011, Army Secretary John M. McHugh suspended the Army’s current effort to in-source work from contractors and subjected all future insourcing proposals to rigorous review.
  • As the State Department prepares to take over the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, James F. Jeffery, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testified in early 2011 that he expects his staff to more than double in size within the coming year, from 8,000 to 17,000 people; most of that personnel growth will be contractors.
  • The outsourcing of military responsibilities is not limited to DOD but extends well into other agencies, such as the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Homeland Security.

The paper attempts to total contractor casualties to date. They leave out certain categories such as contractors working for other states or governments or non-military/non-contractor U.S. civilian deaths, such as fatalities amongst non-uniform employees of the U.S. Department of State, the Agency for International Development, or the various Defense Department agencies so the following figures understate the total. Still, the number is more than large enough to merit attention. According to the data, more than 2,300 contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (in addition to another 58 contractors killed in Kuwait) between 2001 and the first quarter of 2011. Another 51,000 contractors have been injured; more than 19,000 at least somewhat seriously. This reflects the startling fact that contractor deaths now represent over 27 percent of U.S. fatalities since the beginning of these wars.

In Iraq more than 1,537 contractors, about a quarter of the overall U.S. death toll in that country, have died since 2003. In Afghanistan, the 763 dead contractors represent approximately one third of U.S. deaths in that country.

What is even more striking is that—in both Iraq and Afghanistan—contractors are bearing an increasing proportion – annually and cumulatively – of  the death toll.  DBA fatality claims by contractors in 2003 represented only four percent of all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan.  From 2004 to 2007, that number rose to twenty-seven percent.  From 2008 to the end of 2010, DBA [Defense Base Act] fatality claims accounted for an eye-popping forty percent of the combined annual death toll.  In 2010, contractor fatality claims represented nearly half (forty-seven percent) of all fatalities.  In the first quarter of 2011, contractors represented forty-five percent of all fatalities.

So contractors get killed you say. Certainly tragic, but one can say the same about regular military casualties Why do contractor casualties matter then? The answer, according to the authors, is:

All of this matters because of the idea, inherent in our democratic notions of governance, that public support (or public consent) is critical to any successful military action abroad…. Unfortunately, the number of military casualties no longer tells the whole story of human sacrifice associated with military actions…  In fact, a massive contractor presence permits the administration to suggest, and the public to believe, that our military presence on the ground is smaller—by as much as half—than what is actually required to accomplish the mission.

Thus high contractor casualties produce a substitution effect that artificially reduces the public’s perceived human cost of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan—quantified by some exclusively as soldier casualties.

There is a lot of fascinating detail in the paper which I don’t describe here due to space limitations so let’s go to the author’s conclusion:

An honest, accurate tally of the human toll of military conflicts plays a critical role in a representative democracy.  Yet the public, the media, and American policy-makers currently lack relevant, accurate data.  The pervasive deployment of contractors on the modern battlefield requires the injection of contractor deaths into the casualty sensitivity equation

Perhaps most importantly, we encourage the media to report responsibly on the true human costs of the government’s contemporary military actions. This tally, particularly to the extent that it proves inconsistent with conventional wisdom, is important for the public—and Congress—to grasp and internalize both the level of the military’s reliance on contractors and the extent of contractor sacrifice.  Increasingly, contractors make the ultimate sacrifice, and that sacrifice merits respect and gratitude.  Ultimately, the public weighs the intangible benefits of achieving foreign policy objectives against the most tangible costs imaginable—the lives of those sacrificed to achieve those objectives.

In weighing that balance, all lives must be counted.

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Defense Base Act, Department of Labor, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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