Who Cares?

Celester Hall went to Afghanistan to help the troops and make his fortune. He came back deaf, in diapers and looking for benefits.

"But this only makes sense if there are front lines and you have a conventional war and a short war. Nobody planned for this."

Support personnel should be armed and trained to defend themselves if we're going to be in a longtime guerrilla war, Pitts says. "In the traditional army, the privates do the truck driving. It's less expensive and more efficient to handle in a traditional way if we're going to face the reality of extended conflicts."

Of course, to do this would probably mean reinstating the draft, Pitts says.

The wound from Celester's feeding tube still hasn't completely healed.
Daniel Kramer
The wound from Celester's feeding tube still hasn't completely healed.
Because of his continuing balance problems, Celester 
gets Bema's careful help in the bath and shower.
Daniel Kramer
Because of his continuing balance problems, Celester gets Bema's careful help in the bath and shower.

"It appears the American people are more willing to pay unarmed truck drivers $80,000 a year and hit the streets in Iraq without any weapons to defend themselves than to face the reality of common sacrifice that is a draft."

KBR's Norcross wrote that the use of civilian workers to drive trucks, deliver water and fuel, cook meals, wash laundry and deliver mail was a "public policy" decision, "best left to government authorities."

"KBR employees and subcontractors…understand the dangers and difficult conditions involved in working in a war zone and have made courageous decisions to deliver the services necessary to support the troops."

Security for KBR employees is provided by the U.S. military, she wrote, adding that all KBR truck drivers are intensively trained in defensive and evasive driving techniques and how to check for bombs.


Inside a courtroom on the seventh floor of the Federal Building, Celester Hall sits quietly at the plaintiff's table, his rolling walker to his left. The black cochlear implant is visible on the right side of his head.

Officially, his suit is against SEII and the Insurance Co. of the State of Pennsylvania, an underwriting company with American International Group. KBR/Halliburton is out of it, not considered an employer for purposes of the lawsuit.

Attorney Fleishman says he doesn't care whose name is on the suit as long as someone steps up to pay Hall his due.

The atmosphere in the courtroom is amiable. On May 20 some stipulations were signed; SEII has accepted this as a "compensable case," meaning SEII or its insurance carrier is going to do something for Hall.

"We absolutely want to get Mr. Hall what he needs," says John Schouest, a Phelps Dunbar attorney representing SEII. His questions concern the amount of improvement Hall has made so far and what can be expected in the future. He argues that a re-evaluation is in order.

Fleishman points out that so far SEII's track record has been "abysmal" in terms of taking care of Hall, but he welcomes the change in attitude. He recites a list of needs, among them: home health care attendant, prescription medicine, another cochlear implant and physical therapy.

His client has third nerve palsy in his eye, balance problems, ophthalmologic needs, urologic infections and mileage payments for medical care, Fleishman continues. They are here because there were no responses to earlier letters to SEII asking for help in paying the bills, Fleishman tells Judge Clement J. Kennington.

He points to a chart, written by Baylor's Dr. Musher. On it, Musher, recognized as a leading authority on infectious diseases, has listed common factors that lead to streptococcal pneumonia and meningitis: stress, fatigue, dust and overcrowding. They mirror Celester Hall's experience in Afghanistan.

Hall peers at a computer monitor. Since he can't hear, a specially retained court reporter types out the attorneys' questions, which appear on a screen before him.

Finally, he takes the stand. He's 54 now. Never got his GED. In his thirties he switched from working construction to driving trucks.

Since his treatment for meningitis, he's had some improvement to his vision, but it's not right yet.

"I kind of get double vision when you go to my left…I see like two. I'm not getting a real good focus," he explains while Fleishman waves a pen in front of him, asking him to track it.

His balance is still off. "I can't hold a steady line when I walk."

He's still having bladder problems. "I haven't been able to hold my urine all the time." He's had continued bladder infections. He wears Depends. He's been shown how to catheterize himself but isn't especially good at it, so mostly his wife does it.

And now he's got sores coming out on his head.

He uses a Fisher-Price children's wipe board to communicate with his wife. He can't drive.

His wife tells a similar story when it's her turn to testify. Bema Johnson-Hall will have been married to Celester for five years this coming October. On the witness stand she describes their life since Afghanistan.

Every morning she gets Celester breakfast, helps him dress and goes off to work, which is only minutes away. She returns around noon to bring him lunch. After she gets off at 5 p.m., she gets him dinner and then goes off to her second job, where she works till 9 p.m.

Then on Saturdays she goes to her third job, covering phones in a real estate office. She has to do this to pay the mounting bills, to pay for the prescription drugs out of her own pocket. They go through a bag of adult diapers every two weeks.

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