As we have previously discussed in this blog, many of those who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan for private U.S. contractors were providing paramilitary services. These included private security companies that did such tasks as providing bodyguards for VIP’s such as Afghan president Karzai, or guarding geographical locations such as oil fields and refineries. The private military contractors have also trained troops and acted as escorts for convoys. In many cases they have carried weapons and endured battlefield conditions such as firefights and car bombs.
Some estimates say for every 10 military personnel, there is one contractor in service somewhere in the world. This is a huge increase from bygone days, where the numbers were more like 50 to 1. At times during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of contractors was nearly equal to or exceeded the number of military personnel.
It stands to reason that when there are private contractors providing services that put them in harm’s way, there will be injuries and conditions related to that service. If a private contractor is injured from working for a U. S. military contractor overseas, there is a system in place to compensate him or her.
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health issue which is the result of a traumatic event or series of events or conditions. Some common triggers are combat, sexual assault, childhood abuse or neglect, natural disasters or any life-threatening event. Many times the symptoms appear within a few months or so of the event, but sometimes they do not appear until years after the events. For instance, a number of WWII and Viet Nam era soldiers have had PTSD triggered many years after their service.
According to an article by the staff of the Mayo Clinic, PTSD symptoms are generally classified in one of four groups:
- Intrusive memories: such things as flashbacks, bad dreams, reliving the event over and over, severe emotional or physical reactions to things that remind you of the events.
- Avoidance: avoiding people, places and activities that remind you of the event, or trying to avoid thinking about the trauma.
- Negative changes in thinking and mood: negative feelings about yourself or others, being emotionally numb, a feeling of hopelessness, memory issues (including blocking out some or all of the event), relationship issues and/or a lack of interest in things you once enjoyed.
- A change in emotional reactions: irritability or angry outbursts, feeling of shame or survivor’s guilt, trouble concentrating or sleeping, self-destructive behaviors, always being on guard or easily startled.
You may experience only a few of these symptoms, or all of them – how people react to traumatic events is entirely individual to that person. The symptoms may diminish over time, then they come back in a rush, and sometimes, with new and different manifestations.
The military and other mental health professionals have been trying to bring PTSD to the forefront; first by recognizing it as a true mental health issue, and attempting to de-stigmatize the condition so that people will seek help for it.
Treatment for PTSD includes a wide range of options, often a combination of counseling and medication. The counseling gives the person tools to deal with the trauma and its aftermath, and the medication can help control the emotions while you are building these skills. Treatment can help make you feel like you have control of your life again.
PTSD Not Just a Military Condition
A report last year by the Rand Corporation indicated that private military contractors suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than military personnel. It appears that the condition also goes untreated at a higher rate, which then has a ripple effect in their lives. Depression, problematic drinking or substance abuse and other damaging behaviors can occur as result of PTSD. Personal relationships suffer, as the person with PTSD is “not the same person” as they were before the traumatic events.
Defense Base Act Coverage
Difficulties can arise, however, when a private contractor is attempting to get medical treatment for the condition, or compensation for the injury. While military personnel have services and compensation available through the Veterans’ Administration, private contractors have a compensation program known as the Defense Base Act (DBA). The Defense Base Act is an extension of the Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act (read more on this topic), and is designed to compensate those workers injured overseas while working for U.S. contractors. Every company that contracts with the U. S. Department of Defense is required to provide Defense Base Act coverage.
Some insurance companies have been notoriously slow in payment of claims based on PTSD, particularly in cases where the PTSD has led to the suicide of a contractor. In at least one case, the company claimed that the person would have committed suicide regardless of their work overseas, even though that person had seen horrific things and was clearly suffering from PTSD. It has been said that the companies are reluctant to pay on these claims because the emotional symptoms can be “faked” and so extensive medical evidence is required.
In some instances, a person is so disabled by the PTSD that they may not be able to work again, or for a long time. If it can be shown that the PTSD was the result of the work overseas, they should be compensated just as if there was a physical injury.
What Can Be Done?
If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD as a result of working for a U.S contractor overseas, the first thing you should do is get medical treatment from a qualified mental health professional experienced in treating PTSD. You do not have to suffer in silence, or try to bear the burden of this condition alone. There is help available, and there is no shame in seeking that help.
The next thing you should do is consult with an attorney experienced in Defense Base Act claims, to determine if you should pursue a claim through the DBA. They will be able to guide you through the paperwork, the medical exams, the administrative review and they will deal with the insurance company on the other side. If you are in the middle of a claim you have been pursuing yourself, and are having trouble with the insurance company, an experienced DBA attorney can help. They know how to process the claim as efficiently as possible, and they know how to handle the insurance companies.
If you were afflicted with PTSD as a result of your work for a U.S. contractor, you should be compensated for your injury. A dedicated DBA attorney can assist with this claim, and can help you regain control of your life.