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.

Her husband suffers from depression. "He doesn't want to eat. He cries. He says he doesn't want to live anymore," she says. Since the cochlear implant doesn't work, he feels worse. She'd like to have him get psychological counseling. "He's always been a cheerful person."

When Celester was in Afghanistan he was usually on a water truck as an escort, and one of the Afghan men drove. The trip was 40 minutes out and 40 minutes back, not counting the time it took to dump the water at a site provided for by the military. He was riding with one Afghan who was really sick for about a week.

It was crowded and dusty inside the hut. It was always dirty. They kept it cold to discourage the rats and spiders from coming in through the cracks along the electric pipes. He bought masks from the store.

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.

His work schedule was seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Critics say SEII was incorporated in the Cayman Islands to get around U.S. labor laws. No overtime is paid. KBR says it does comply with U.S. law, but different standards apply with overseas incorporation and they -- just like other companies -- pay straight time for work in excess of 40 hours per week.

When Celester first got sick, the medic told him it might have been due to the elevation and that he didn't drink enough water.

He starts crying on the witness stand when he tells about first seeing his wife in the hospital. He didn't know where he was; Bema got a writing board and told him all the things that had happened to him.

He shows the sore in the middle of his stomach where they put in the feeding tube. It hasn't quite healed. His wife replaces the bandages. He has burning and pain in his hands and feet.

Most days he sits at home, where he reads his Bible. He can't answer the phone. He went to church on Easter Sunday but hasn't gone much since because he can't hear anything. His wife helps him bathe or shower.

Asked what he wants by the attorney for his former employer, Hall says he wants to be restored.

"Help me get better so I can enjoy life. I miss a lot of things…I used to be able to play sports, and now I can hardly walk."

Civilian worker Sam Walker was in the KBR chow hall at Camp Merez in Iraq when a suicide bomber blew up the place, killing 22 people and injuring more than 50 others on December 21, 2004. Walker suffered shrapnel wounds to his hand, head and leg. He picked bits of flesh off himself after the explosion. He's being seen by a psychologist for post-traumatic stress disorder.

He hasn't received any benefits from KBR.

The 43-year-old has problems with anxiety, sleep disturbance and hypervigilance, Pitts says.

Rates of PTSD among those serving in Iraq are much higher than from the first Gulf war, Pitts says. "The first was a war that lasted six weeks, and only three days were a ground war. This is a chronic guerrilla war, no front line. The first war had a front line. There are a lot more soldiers that are actually having to engage in house-to-house fighting and actually shooting the enemy and seeing them."

The U.S. Army counsels people before they leave the theater of war, Pitts says. It has instituted a policy of following up after they return to the States. There's been a learning curve since Vietnam.

The civilian contract workers who are exposed to the war zone don't have the same treatment, Pitts says.

A country goes to war, and it recruits young people to fight for it. In the case of civilian workers, however, the average age tends to be higher.

"You want the demographics on some of my clients?" asks Pitts, leafing through his files. He finds a 64-year-old truck driver, another man who's 63, another 58. "The average age is significantly older than those in the military."

Bema Johnson-Hall met her future husband through a friend of her brother's. At first, she wouldn't go out with him. A year later she agreed to start dating. A while after that, they got married.

Celester's world had been pretty much restricted to East Texas and Houston, she says. "He really hadn't had a whole lot of things in life." She had always traveled, and they started going places together. They dreamed of buying their own home for themselves and their children -- her son, now 15, from her first marriage and Celester's 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son from his.

Bema was taking nursing classes but had to drop out when everything went so wrong with her husband, she says. She doesn't know when she'll get back.

Two months after his court hearing, some things have improved for Celester and Bema. They were disappointed to find out the May 31 hearing didn't settle anything -- a mediation was tentatively scheduled for August 11, and a post-hearing brief is due to the court on August 15 -- but now at least there is some money coming in.

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