Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. As a country, we owe a great debt to those who serve and have served in the U.S. Armed Forces both at home and overseas. But there is another group of people that haven’t yet been acknowledged with a special day to honor their contributions to our military efforts abroad. These unsung heroes of U.S. foreign policy are civilian contractors. And without them, our military efforts around the world would grind to a halt.

The Department of Labor / OWCP Defense Base Act Case Summary Reports detailing work injuries for civilian contractors abroad reveals a total of 22,128 no lost time accidents, 1649 accidents with lost time of 3 days or less, 21,052 accidents with in excess of 4 days of lost time, and 1,789 deaths between September 1, 2001 and March 31, 2020. Brown University’s Costs of War project estimates that the real number is 3814 civilian contractor deaths in Afghanistan, which means that more contractors have been killed in Afghanistan than U.S. troops.  The Department of Labor acknowledges that their DBA case summary reports do not constitute complete or official casualty statistics of civilian contractor injuries or deaths, and make it clear that the numbers are offered only as general information to the public.

Civilian contractors who are injured or killed while working overseas are covered by the Defense Base Act. The modern Defense Base Act was born as the Defense Bases Act of August 16, 1941  which provided that the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers Compensation Act would temporarily apply to any injuries or deaths of employees engaged in any employment at any military, air or naval base acquired after January 1, 1940 by the United States from any foreign governments or any lands occupied or used by the United States for military or naval purposes in any territory or possession outside the continental United States. The Defense Base Act has gone through several modifications, and was finally converted from temporary to permanent legislation in 1958 when Congress determined that the United States’ overseas commitments would not diminish substantially in the near future. How right they were!

The Defense Base Act covers six categories of work:

  1. Any employment at any military, air or naval base acquired after January 1, 1940, by the United States from any foreign government.
  2. Any employment on any lands occupied or used by the United States for military or naval purposes in any Territory or possession outside the continental United States.
  3. On any public work in any Territory or possession outside the continental United States, if the employee is engaged in employment at such a place under the contract of a contractor (or any subcontractor or subordinate subcontractor with respect to the contract of such contractor) with the United States, but not including any employee of such a contractor or subcontractor who is engaged exclusively in furnishing materials or supplies under his contract.
  4. Under a contract entered into with the United States or any executive department, independent establishment, or agency thereof (including any corporate instrumentality of the United States and at places not within the areas described in 1,2 or 3, above, for the purpose of engaging in public work, except employees engaged exclusively in furnishing materials or supplies.
  5. Under a contract approved and financed by the United States or any executive department, independent establishment, or agency thereof (including any corporate instrumentality of the United States), or any subcontract or subordinate contract with respect to such contract, when such a contract is to be performed outside the continental United States, under the Mutual Security Act of 1954, as amended (other than title II of chapter II thereof unless the Secretary of Labor, on the recommendation of the head of any department or other agency of the United States, determines a contract financed under a successor provision of any successor Act should be covered by this Section), and not otherwise within the coverage of this section, except employees engaged exclusively in furnishing materials or supplies.
  6. Outside the continental United States by an American employer providing welfare or similar services for the benefit of the Armed Forces pursuant to appropriate authorization by the Secretary of Defense; irrespective of the place where the injury or death occurs, and includes any injury or death occurring to any such employee during transportation to or from his place of employment, when the employer or the United States provides the transportation or the cost thereof.

Put more simply, the first two categories are defined by the location of the employment. Categories three and four are defined by the performance of work under a contract with the United States for work outside of the continental United States. Category five applies to work on a contract approved and financed by the United States under successor laws to the Mutual Security Act of 1954, and the sixth applies to work for an American employer providing welfare or similar services for the benefit of the Armed Forces.

Under the Defense Base Act, an injured employee is entitled to medical benefits, disability benefits, death benefits and vocational rehabilitation benefits. Claims are filed depending on where the injury occurred. For example, the District Office in Boston handles Defense Base Act claims that occur east of the 75th degree west longitude, Newfoundland and Greenland while the District Office in New York handles claims that arise out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

If you are a military contractor injured overseas, you have the right to medical benefits, disability payments, and vocational rehabilitation if required. Death benefits are also available for the families of contracts who are killed while on assignment. If you have questions about being injured as a civilian contractor overseas, do not hesitate to contact me for a free consultation.