Workers' Compensation Exposures Overseas and Military Outsourcing

Workers' Compensation Exposures Overseas and Military Outsourcing

While the issue of reducing U.S. troop levels in Iraq has become a political football, the fact remains that we're going to see a continued U.S. presence in Iraq for several years to come. This U.S. presence includes many civilian employees who assist directly or indirectly with the war effort and the rebuilding of Iraq.

The New York Times reported back in May 2007 that approximately 126,000 individuals work for 300 private companies that supply workers to serve alongside 150,000 American troops, creating the largest civilian force in American military history. So far 12,000 civilian workers have been wounded in battle or injured on the job. The Labor Department reports that 1,001 civilian workers have been killed as of June 30, 2007.  The insurgents tend to go after soft targets, particularly truckers, security guards, and interpreters.


The Defense Base Act (DBA) and the War Hazards Compensation Act (WHCA), both of which were enacted during World War II, address workers' compensation exposures for civilian employees (domestic and foreign) of private companies doing work overseas in furtherance of American foreign policy.  But the face of war has dramatically changed since then due to military outsourcing, terrorism, and the like, and these Acts are being applied under circumstances that were probably never contemplated by its authors.

For further details, see Roger A. Levy on the Challenges of Applying the Defense Base Act to Civilian Employees Injured Overseas, a LexisNexis Expert Commentary, and Roger A. Levy on the War Hazards Compensation Act for Overseas Civilian Employees Injured by a War Risk Hazard or Detained by a Hostile Force, a LexisNexis Expert Commentary.

Aisle or Window, Chicken or Pasta

Needless to say, working conditions in Iraq are extremely harsh. There's obviously limited safety in the workplace when you're in a war zone. According to the New York Times, the oft-repeated mantra given by bosses to workers who complain of the long work hours, lack of safety equipment, and dangerous work conditions is "aisle or window, chicken or pasta"—get on the next plane home if you don't like it here.

However, for the thousands of Iraqi and other foreign nationals employed by U.S. companies, there's really no way out. If they file a DBA claim, thereby exposing the fact that they work for a U.S. company, they may be targeted by insurgents. To protect the identity of foreign nationals, the Department of Labor has mandated the use of claimants' initials instead of their full names in all decisions issued by the Office of Administrative Law Judges and Benefits Review Board.

Spike in DBA claims

Clearly there has been a sharp increase during the last three years in the number of DBA claims being filed. One issue of controversy often arises over the calculation of a worker's average weekly wage since many of these workers have left relatively low paying jobs at home for one paying as much as five times more overseas. To read these DBA decisions, see the Benefits Review Board Service--Longshore Reporter (LexisNexis Matthew Bender).  For further discussion of the Longshore Act and its extensions, such as the DBA, see Larson's Workers' Compensation Law § 145.01 et seq. (LexisNexis Matthew Bender).


Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 09-24-2007

You make excellent points in this blog entry. You reiterate an important factor that is overlooked--that foreign nationals who work for U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are covered by the DBA in the same manner as United States citizens.