Checking in on Balad Air Base

Checking in on Balad Air Base

The sprawling DoD installation in Iraq, which is home to an F-16 squadron and infamous among many contractors, is getting a $134 million facelift and expansion.

Reston, Virginia-based Sallyport Global Holdings will do all the work in the next six months. According to a news release, the job entails upgrades and expansions to “base operations support, life support and security services.” The original work order came from the Iraqi government, but the DoD is expected to pay all of the bill.

Balad and Politics

As evidence that the government is quick to forgive, has an extremely short memory, or both, Sallyport was at the center of a wide-ranging smuggling scandal at Balad that broke in the spring of 2017, just a few months before officials awarded this latest contract. The scandal also included allegations of timecard fraud and theft of government property.

According to investigators, Sallyport guards never searched three bags that came back from Baghdad flights; the suitcases contained plastic water bottles filled with liquor. Flight Logistics Officer Steve Anderson said he lost his position after he refused to falsify manifests and saw planes so overloaded with bootleg alcohol that they could barely clear the tarmac. Investigators also stated that other crew members were often drunk, and on one flight, someone passed around a bowl of vodka-soaked Gummy Bears.

Even more disturbingly, Sallyport employees were also linked to a prostitution and sex trafficking ring. Supposedly, four Ethiopian women who worked at the same Baghdad hotel became housekeepers at Balad, and they continued sending money to a pimp in al-Burhan.

Investigators claim that Sallyport brass told its internal investigators to shut down the investigation, an allegation that the company denies.

Balad and Burn Pit Injuries

More significantly for our purposes, Balad was also at the center of the burn pit controversy. Witnesses say that Balad’s pit was one of the largest ones in the entire theater, burning up to 240 tons of waste a day only about a mile from the barracks. In 2008, Balad’s former bioenvironmental flight commander Lieutenant Colonel Darrin Curtis called the burn pit “an acute health hazard for individuals,” adding that there was also a strong “possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke.”

His warning largely fell on deaf ears, but there is evidence to support his claims. About 50 Balad soldiers developed constrictive bronchiolitis, an incredibly rare and incredibly serious condition found only in people who have been exposed to environmental toxins or undergone organ transplants. Many others developed chronic asthma, a rate that is far higher than the general population. Finally, Navy Capt. Mark Lyles found that Kuwaiti and Iraqi dust particles contained thirty-seven dangerous metals along with 147 different kinds of bacteria.

There is some speculation that Beau Biden, the former Vice President’s son, contracted brain cancer as a result of burn pit exposure. The 46-year-old Mr. Biden died in 2015.

Benefits Available

For over 100 years, American jurisprudence has embraced the principle that entities which place their workers at risk of injury should be responsible for paying for treatment and lost wages while their workers are disabled because of these work-related injuries, regardless of fault or blame. In 1948, Congress incorporated that idea into the Defense Base Act.

Procedurally, these claims are intricate. Although victims do not have to prove fault, they do have to prove that there was a relationship between their injuries and their employment, and they must also prove their claims for medical bills, lost wages, and other economic damages. Insurance company lawyers often vigorously contest both these elements.

Militant attackers, such as suicide bombers, can strike at any time, and they often target places that Americans frequent. So, if a contractor is hurt while shopping for food or working out at a gym, the insurance company will often argue that the injury is not compensable. However, both these scenarios arguably satisfy the nexus requirement embedded in the law.

Documentation is often the key to obtaining a fair share of medical benefits. The victim should have statements from witnesses who saw the severity of the attack, as well as medical bills and statements from doctors that support the treatment plan. Fortunately, the DBA allows victims to choose their own doctors, and they will institute treatment plans that are in the best interests of the patients as opposed to the best interests of the insurance company.

For more information about the benefits available, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel.