Lingering Contractor Injuries From the Afghanistan War

After more than 20 years of fighting, the last U.S. combat troops left Afghanistan in August 2021. However, instability continues in the war-torn country. Similarly, most private military contractors left Afghanistan around 2021. However, many of these contractors continue to suffer from serious deployment-related injuries. Some of these long-term, deployment-related injuries are discussed below.

These injury victims are eligible for substantial Defense Base Act financial benefits. These disability benefits replace future lost wages and pay reasonably necessary future medical bills. The amount of available benefits depends on the nature and extent of the disability. However, insurance companies do not simply give these benefits away. In fact, they usually dispute liability (legal responsibility) and/or damages (the amount of compensation). More on these things below.

A Defense Base Act lawyer thoroughly evaluates your case, collects evidence that supports your claims, and aggressively pushes for maximum compensation throughout the long DBA benefits process. Thanks to all this effort, the average attorney-negotiated DBA injury settlement is about three times higher than the average non-attorney-negotiated settlement. In other words, injury victims without lawyers almost always end up settling for less.

Toxic Exposure

Historically, non-combat injuries are much more common than combat-related injuries. Poor hygiene has injured and killed many more soldiers over the centuries than blades and bullets. Back in the day, dysentery and other hygiene-related diseases usually spread like wildfire through military camps. Today, toxic burn pit smoke is often the problem.

Instead of constructing septic tanks or other safe human waste disposal systems, the armed forces ordered soldiers, mostly private military contractors, to dig burn pits. All camp refuse, including human waste, rubber tires, medical waste, metal vehicle parts, and Styrofoam cups, was dumped into the pit.

This approach is safe if the soldiers move constantly. After all, campers and hikers usually dump everything on the campfire. But as the campaigns in Afghanistan bogged down, more and more soldiers stayed in the same place for longer and longer periods of time. Burn pits are completely inappropriate in such situations.

The body cannot dispose of toxic particles. So, they accumulate and, like a time bomb that eventually explodes, they eventually cause serious injury, including several kinds of cancer.

Brain Injuries

Head injuries, which many doctors called the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, come in several forms. We will discuss two of them in this section. The third one we will reserve for a special discussion.

mTBIs (Moderate Traumatic Brain Injuries) are concussions. Individually, concussions usually cause temporary disabilities. Compensation may be available for such disabilities. The cumulative effect of multiple concussions causes CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a permanent and degenerative condition that is usually fatal. Long-term disability benefits are definitely available in these situations.

No one knows how many mTBIs cause CTE and which concussion will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If prior non-deployment-related concussions contributed to CTE, maximum disability benefits are still available.

Several things could cause an sTBI (Severe Traumatic Brain Injury). Among Afghanistan veterans, a sudden loud noise might be the most common cause. An explosive blast or other event triggers shock waves that disrupt brain functions. A blow to the head could also cause an sTBI, as could a fall. When victims fall, their brains slam against the insides of their skulls, an injury that is very much like an external blow to the head.

Hearing Loss

Many contractors came home from Afghanistan with brain injuries and did not know it. Similarly, many contractors came home with hearing loss problems and did not know it.

This injury causes physical and emotional damage. If doctors do not catch the problem early, usually because the victim did not report it, they must surgically correct the victim’s eardrum. This surgery is risky and expensive. Furthermore, people who cannot hear well usually withdraw from social activities. This withdrawal often begins a spiraling depression.

Deployment-related hearing loss could have liability issues. In August 2023, 3M agreed to pay more than $6 billion to settle allegations that it sold defective earplugs to the military between 2003 and 2015. So, in a hearing loss case, the insurance company could blame the manufacturer.

Such disputes normally do not affect injured contractors. Multiple defendants could affect who writes the check, but the settlement check is always the same amount.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a specific kind of physical brain injury. PTSD affects so many contractors that it deserves its own section.

Extreme stress, like combat stress, alters the brain’s chemical composition. The hippocampus, which controls logical thinking, shrinks, making room for the amygdala (emotional responses) to expand. This imbalance causes symptoms like:

  • Hypervigilance,
  • Depression,
  • Anger,
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares

PTSD has been known by many names over the years, such as nostalgia (American Civil War). shell shock (World War I), and battle fatigue (World War II). Extensive therapy never “cured” PTSD, but it controlled the symptoms enough to enable victims to live somewhat normal lives.

With the latest research breakthrough, doctors can address the chemical imbalance that causes the symptoms. However, some doctors cling to the old ways and insist that PTSD is a “processing disorder.” So, insurance companies often enlist such doctors, who then testify that prescription drugs and other such medical treatments are not reasonably necessary.

So, in most cases, a Defense Base Act lawyer must partner with an independent physician who sets the record straight as the underlying cause of PTSD and, therefore, the reasonableness of the treatments the victim received.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.