Scandal in Mistreatment of Silent Service Members

By on September 28, 2011 in Current Events, Human Resources with 22 Comments

 by
Scott J. Bloch

Scott J. Bloch was Special Counsel over the U.S. Office of Special Counsel from December of 2003 until December of 2008
and now practices law in Washington, D.C. on behalf of injured contractors, whistleblowers,
and employees throughout the country and around the world.

I like representing heroes. I did it in the federal government, helping whistleblowers who were
taking it on the chin for protecting us. One of the more rewarding things I had the privilege of doing in
government as U.S. Special Counsel was protecting the jobs of heroes returning
from National Guard or reserve duty under USERRA.  Now back in private practice, I have been
privileged to protect the rights of our silent service members – private
contractors who work in Iraq and Afghanistan and Kuwait in support of Operation
Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. 

While about 150,000 troops from America have served in
Afghanistan and Iraq at any given time over the last few years, we don’t hear
much about the 200,000 private contractors, about 100,000 from America, the
rest from England, South Africa, Australia and other countries such as Kuwait,
Iraq, India, Afghanistan, South America, Uganda and so on. There have been several thousand deaths among
these contractors, and over 50,000 injuries, some catastrophic, some
psychological, sometimes both.

Many of them are decorated veterans of the two current wars,
Operation Desert Storm, the Bosnian conflict, or Vietnam, some with purple
hearts, silver and bronze stars and other combat medals and awards. Many have been in the special forces of their
countries’ armed services. They believe in helping America fight terrorists
and defend freedom. They have placed
their lives on the line as security personnel, carrying guns, or as combat
drivers, as firefighters on bases where they are attacked, bombarded by mortar
fire, shot at, and subjected to extremes of war and heat, during long work days
usually seven days a week. These are not
“mercenaries,” with all of the negative connotations contained in the
word. They are patriots.     

Many of these ordinary heroes have suffered physical and
mental injuries, including having their limbs blown off, contracting brain
injuries from concussion blasts of roadside bombs, or severe post traumatic
stress disorder from being subjected to horrifying scenes of dismemberment,
death, and threats of same every day. What has the American government done for them, and what have the
insurance companies being paid billions done for these men and women? 

There is a system in place that is supposed to help them,
like the military system in place to help injured soldiers, like the system in
place to help displaced workers under USERRA, but then we saw in the Walter
Reed Medical Center debacle and when I was United States Special Counsel what
happens when a system breaks down and stops treating people as
individuals. They become prisoners in a
bureaucracy that does not stoop to help them quickly as the law requires and
sometimes punishes them for seeking their benefits. Some in the
system have expressed resentment that these workers who dodge bullets would
earn higher pay for going to a war zone where its temperature is only outpaced
by the danger. 

These silent warriors are often deprived of their benefits
and subjected to a torturous process of denial of claims, and a circuitous
series of bureaucratic delays and bad faith mistreatment by the insurance
companies and the contracting companies who have been paid by tax dollars to
provide them the workers compensation insurance.

Their injuries are often grievous, involving disabling
physical, mental and brain conditions. Yet the hell of war is nothing compared to the hell of dealing with a
system that favors the contractors, their insurance carriers, and the difficult-to-negotiate
bureaucracy that administers the benefits under the Defense Base Act by way of
the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. The law is supposed to be liberally construed
to get benefits to injured employees, including disability payments to replace
wages, and all medical benefits necessary to remedy the conditions. 

One of the scandals of all of this leviathan process is that
the taxpayer pays the premiums on this expensive workers compensation
insurance, and the insurance companies can get all the money back they pay out
in benefits if the injuries result from a war hazard. DynCorp, KBR/Halliburton, Blackwater, have
all been hit with hundreds of millions in fines for fraud on the American
people. Congress just found that CNA for
one has overcharged the government $58 million for insurance because the contractors do not reimburse them for overpayments. Insurance Giant AIG has obtained 40 billion
in bailouts, but just had to pay half a billion in fines for fraudulently
understating insurance experience figures, and now is wreaking havoc on the
lives of these brave, silent soldiers.  

These insurance companies can even get a 15% rider of
administrative costs and attorneys fees. Yet the companies and the insurance carriers act like these brave men
and women are a bunch of loafers on the system, cheaters and deadbeats. And they play games with their lives, and the
lives of their families that has caused many to be ruined, thrown out of
houses, thrown out of wheelchairs, credit in the toilet and lives in
shambles.   

They face ridicule, delays, run arounds, abuse, and a
lengthy wait in an administrative system only Kafka could have thought up. Many spend years waiting to resolve their
cases while attorneys toss around arcane questions of law or medical practice. Benefits get held up, months go by with
neither the contracting company, the insurance carrier or the Department of
Labor acting on the case. Some people
have committed suicide waiting on the process, some have given up bringing
claims out of utter disgust or discouragement. Many would rather go without than deal with the punishment of the
DBA. 

Congress has had hearings on this, inspectors general have
looked into criminal allegations against the companies and their carriers, and
the people continue languishing, getting worse due to non treatment, and losing
their doctors who refuse to be abused by the insurance companies like
AIG or CNA or Zurich or ACE American who run the tables with their attorneys
and deny benefits at the drop of a hat, and then often start them again, willy
nilly. 

So the next time you hear someone call these people
mercenaries, or think the injured are faking it, remember the battalions of
silent warriors protecting you and me, and the horror they face on their
return. These people are heroes, and
their families have been forced to fight a war here at home, and they need our
help, our support, and our members of Congress to do something before it’s too
late.  

 

© 2011 by Scott J. Bloch. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Scott J. Bloch.

© 2016 FedSmith.com. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from FedSmith.com.

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