Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Defense Base Act Protects American Workers Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan

In the wake of 9/11, thousands of Americans signed on with companies that had contracted with the U.S. federal government to provide services in support of the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. War zones are dangerous places, and they have sometimes proved as dangerous for our civilian workers as they have for our troops.

Tragically, many of these workers became injured while overseas. Just as tragically, many of the workers who where injured in support of American efforts abroad have been faced with overwhelming medical bills and loss of income as they recuperated. Some also lost their lives, leaving their families destitute. Many others who are unable to work watch their family's savings and assets dwindle, and their security disappear.

A law exists to ensure fair workers compensation for these people. It's called the Defense Base Act. Unfortunately, too few people in need of its protection understand their own rights under the law. Even fewer know what to do to guarantee those rights. Recuperation can be difficult enough without mounting bills, the threat of bankruptcy, and an inability to get proper medical care and rehabilitation. That's to say nothing of the financial threat to the families involved.

The Defense Base Act requires that contractors working with the U.S. Military in war zones carry worker's compensation insurance. This type of insurance is compulsory for organizations employing U.S. citizens or residents, and all employees or subcontractors hired on overseas government contracts. However, these companies sometimes fail to inform workers of their rights. Worse, the insurance carriers often refuse claims, abandoning injured Americans who supported the American mission to face crushing expenses and debt on their own.

Fortunately, Federal law provides a genuine solution, though unfortunately few injured workers know how to apply it. The Defense Base Act is part of the Longshoremen and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, and covers to employees of government contractors working overseas under contract to the United States Government. Specifically, the Act covers workers employed by American contractors performing public works for the U.S. government in U.S. territories, or at U.S. military bases located outside the continental United States, in support of military aid programs within allied nations. Workers are protected under the Act, even if they are only employed to build embassies and other U.S. government buildings abroad.

The Act ensures medical treatment and compensation for employees of defense contractors injured in the course of employment. For thousands of American workers injured abroad, the Defense Base Act has provided support for them under devastating circumstances. Claims under the Act have been successfully filed by many individuals, including some contact workers injured in Korea, VietNam, both Iraq wars, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. All were protected under the general coverage of the Act.

The Defense Base Act mandates that any injured worker should be confident of having an attorney at his side to ensure a just outcome. Both injured workers and family member of someone who has died from job injuries overseas are covered. Compensation is also allowable for partial loss of earnings, and significant death benefits are commonly paid to spouses and family. Fortunately, injured workers or their families are not responsible for legal fees for a DBA injury claim. The Defense Base Act requires that all attorney fees depend entirely on the amount of money the claimant receives. No outrageous legal fees are possible. The fees are awarded by the Department of Labor,and are never included in any other compensation to the claimant. The injured party does not pay the lawyer out of his or her compensation. Instead,compensation is awarded to the attorney by the court, and paid by the insurance company or the original employer.

Civilians working in support of American military and U.S. State Department objectives continue to be injured to this day. For these injured civilians, the key to success in securing just compensation under the Defense Base Act is finding the right lawyer. This is a highly specialized area, and familiarity with standard Workman's Compensation Law is simply inadequate. Claimants are advised to find a Defense Base Act attorney with years of experience and success with these claims.

William Prescott is web copy writer and researcher of health issues. This article is based on interviews with legal expert Kurt Gronau, a well-known Defense Base Act attorney.

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