Gunshot wounds, falls, and other sudden trauma injuries make up most of the contractor injuries in places like Iraq. However, some contractor injuries occur slowly over time. These creeping illnesses are just as devastating as sudden trauma injuries. So, injury compensation is available in both cases.
The Defense Base Act provides compensation to most contractors who were injured overseas. Even if the illness occurred outside the workplace, compensation may be available, if the victim establishes a nexus between the illness and the deployment.
Additionally, even if the victim had a pre-existing injury, the DBA still applies. Victims must simply prove that the deployment-related illness aggravated the pre-existing injury or illness, and it was not the other way around.
DBA benefits usually include money for lost wages and medical bills. Most victims receive two-thirds of their Average Weekly Wages for the duration of their temporary disabilities. Additionally, DBA insurance companies usually pay medical expenses directly. Most victims never see a bill, and they are not responsible for any unpaid charges.
Among both domestic workers and overseas contractors, hearing loss is the most common occupational disease. Extended exposure to sounds as low as 50 decibels can cause moderate to severe hearing loss. 50 dB is basically a household vacuum cleaner. Things like engine noise cause much more severe hearing loss, and cause it much more quickly.
If caught early enough, hearing loss is easy to correct. Today’s hearing aids are small and effective. But if the eardrum is damaged, a hearing aid will improve the victim’s hearing, but it will not “cure” the problem. At that point, a cure may be impossible, and victims suffer lifelong consequences.
In some cases, occupational disease victims may be able to obtain additional compensation for things like pain and suffering. That may be the case with regard to hearing loss. 3M is currently in the midst of a major lawsuit in this area. Victims allege that the company sold defective earplugs to people serving in Iraq. If a defective product causes injury, the manufacturer may be strictly liable for damages. That includes both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
The Veterans Administration has consistently denied that the burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq caused injury. This stance is not surprising, since the VA said the same thing about Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange. After years of fighting, Vietnam veterans finally got the money they deserved. Hopefully, a DBA attorney will not have to fight for years to obtain compensation for burn pit victims. But there will definitely be a fight. Although substantial compensation is available, DBA insurance companies do not simply give this money away.
Burn pits are open-air pits which are filled with every kind of trash imaginable, doused with jet fuel, and then set ablaze. In many places, contractors performed most or all of these activities. Toxic burn pit smoke has been linked to a variety of chronic and deadly diseases, including cancer and severe lung scarring.
The Department of Labor, which administers the Defense Base Act, recently held that there was a link between burn pits and serious illness. So, injured contractors may have an easier time than injured servicemembers in this area, given the aforementioned VA intransigence.
Many outdoor activities require lots of standing, stooping, bending, and lifting. Over time, the additional joint stress often causes serious injury. That’s especially true if the victim has a pre-existing illness or injury, like a bad knee.
These claims often have procedural issues. Most victims do not immediately go to the doctor when they feel a twinge in their knees or other joints. Even if they do, they often do not connect the joint issue to their private military contractor duties. So, the claims deadline may pass before the victim even files paperwork.
The delayed discovery rule generally protects victims in these situations. Victims do not need to file claims until:
- They know the full extent of their injuries, and
- They connect those injuries to workplace activity.
Still, to preserve your rights, it is usually a good idea to file a DBA claim at the initial doctor visit. Victims can withdraw their claims later if needed, and neither current nor future employers can discriminate against contractors because they file work injury claims.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
CTS is basically the equivalent of joint pain for contractors who work in offices or fly drones. Both joint pain and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are repetitive stress disorders. So, many of the same legal rules apply.
When people elevate their wrists for long periods of time, the narrow carpal tunnel inside the bone becomes even narrower. As the tunnel collapses, many victims experience severe pain in their arms and necks. If not treated quickly, the nerve damage may become permanent.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Prolonged exposure to combat stress erodes the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain controls logical responses. When that deterioration happens, the amygdala becomes too big. This part of the brain controls emotional responses. The imbalance explains common PTSD symptoms, such as:
- Heightened awareness, and
So, PTSD is a physical injury and not a “processing disorder.” The distinction is important for DBA purposes, because this program only applies to physical injuries. Like other brain injuries, PTSD is permanent. But extended physical therapy usually eases the symptoms. Often, therapy makes the symptoms almost unnoticeable, because therapists train uninjured areas of the brain to take over lost functions.
Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A., for more information about DBA benefits.