At Barnett Lerner, we deal with a number of deployment-related trauma injuries. As might be expected, most of them involve guns and bombs, but a few involve falls and other mishaps. Weapons of war cause both visible injuries and invisible injuries. These invisible injuries, especially brain injuries, are especially common in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Combat contractors also struggle with occupational disease. By definition, these conditions develop over the course of more than one work shift. As far as the DBA is concerned, trauma injuries and occupational diseases are basically the same. Some of the more common combat-related occupational disease are listed below.
In both cases, compensation is available for lost wages. Generally, that means two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of a temporary disability. Additionally, the DBA pays for medical expenses. These expenses include things like emergency care, follow-up treatment, and physical therapy.
Burn pits are the largest toxic exposure source in Afghanistan and Iraq. What was supposed to be a temporary waste disposal solution turned out to be a semi-permanent one. A burn pit is just that. It is a large hole in the ground. Military personnel, mostly contractors, then filled these pits with every kind of waste and set it ablaze.
Tires, styrofoam cups, medical waste, and metal vehicle parts have large amounts of heavy metals like chromium and cadmium. If even a few of these particles touch the brain, serious and permanent injury could result. At best, toxic exposure victims generally lose some of their everyday functions. At worst, toxic exposure is fatal.
Burn pits also cause a number of respiratory conditions. Burn pits often cause chronic bronchitis. This condition makes it difficult to function at home or work. Additionally, burn pit exposure often causes constrictive bronchiolitis, which is a much more serious condition. Scar tissue closes narrow air passageways in the lung. In advanced stages, a radical lung transplant is the only known treatment. That is a risky procedure, which may not work.
In 2018, the Department of Labor ruled that burn pits cause deployment-related lung disease, which is an umbrella term for CB and a number of other conditions. This important legal precedent makes it easier to obtain DBA compensation in these situations.
This condition may be the most common deployment-related occupational disease, and also one of the most complex ones. Extended exposure to anything louder than 85 decibels, which is basically a school cafeteria, could cause hearing loss. If caught early enough, hearing loss is rather easy to correct. But any delayed diagnosis or treatment could mean a permanent injury.
Sometimes, defective products cause hearing loss. In 2018, 3M paid a $9.1 million fine for making false statements to the government. According to the Justice Department, the company knowingly furnished defective earplugs to Southwest Asia soldiers. The defective earplugs could have affected thousands of contractors. If a product defect caused a contractor’s injury, the victim may be entitled to additional compensation.
There is no shortage of sand in Iraq and Afghanistan. This sand usually contains tiny silicone particles. In much the same way as the aforementioned burn pit conditions, silicone particles cause scar tissue to build in the lungs. This scar tissue makes breathing difficult, even when at rest. Many silicosis victims also have a chronic, hacking cough.
There are several kinds of this disease. Accelerated silicosis, which usually develops after intense exposure to silicone, is latent for up to 10 years. Even though the DBA claims deadline has passed, victims in these situations may still be eligible for compensation.
These diseases have an even longer latency period. In fact, the mesothelioma latency period could be 40 years. A variation of the delayed discovery rule usually applies in these situations. DBA victims do not have a duty to report the illness until they understand the full extent of their condition and they link that condition to their contractor deployment.
Asbestos, a fibrous mineral, was once used extensively as an insulator and fireproofing agent. So, many bombed-out structures, especially office buildings, probably have asbestos. The microscopic fibers are so toxic that just one is enough to cause mesothelioma. This is one of the rarest and most aggressive forms of cancer.
Just like asbestos was once used in construction, lead was commonly used in plumbing. Lead paint was common, as well. Exposure to this heavy metal may cause a number of health problems, mostly related to brain function. Lead impairs memory and the thought process. High exposure levels could be fatal.
The Defense Base Act usually covers situations like these, even if the injury or illness is not directly related to the contractor’s duties. Only a nexus, which is basically an indirect connection, is necessary. For example, if Jim swims in the ocean partially for training and partially for recreation and he is caught in a rip tide, the DBA usually applies.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Not all private military contractors carry assault rifles and protect convoys. In fact, most military contractors spend a lot of time in the office. They write reports and send messages. Other contractors work in offices full-time. They provide intelligence services or pilot drones.
If the hands are elevated above the wrists, the narrow carpal tunnel constricts. This passageway is in the wrist, and one of the main nerves in the arm travels through this tunnel. If the opening is compressed, the nerve is pinched. That can cause chronic pain and even serious injury. Much like hearing loss, if this condition goes undetected or untreated for too long, it is nearly impossible to correct.
Contact Barnett, Lerner, Carsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. for more information about the DBA process.