Returning War Contractors Face Second Battle, Against AIG

Whatever your role in the U.S. war effort, if you were injured overseas, at least you'd be covered back home, right?

"There's a political element to it," says Pitts. "Whenever you see the war casualty numbers, they don't include the civilian casualty numbers."

Steven L. Schooner, a law professor at George Washington University, has written extensively on how the "ultimate sacrifice has been privatized." Schooner believes that since they perform roles that are essentially military in nature, if not combat, contractor casualty totals should be included in official government totals.

According to his research, from 2001 through 2010, contractors accounted for more than 25 percent of the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan (5,531 U.S. troops, 2,008 contractors). More than 44,000 contractors have been injured during that same time, 16,000 of them seriously. What's more, those totals are likely incomplete, since they represent only the number of people for whom an insurance claim has been made.

After his rig bottomed out in a bomb crater, AIG made former KBR trucker David Boiles of Willis suffer through 14 months of agonizing back pain and sciatica before they authorized surgery.
Daniel Kramer
After his rig bottomed out in a bomb crater, AIG made former KBR trucker David Boiles of Willis suffer through 14 months of agonizing back pain and sciatica before they authorized surgery.
Houston attorney Gary Pitts has won more Defense Base Act cases than any other lawyer, and he has the files to prove it.
Daniel Kramer
Houston attorney Gary Pitts has won more Defense Base Act cases than any other lawyer, and he has the files to prove it.

Contractors are bearing an ever-increasing amount of the casualty burden, Schooner has found. In 2003, contractors represented one in every 25 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2007, that ratio lowered to one in four. From 2008 to 2010, contractors were 40 percent of the death toll, and in 2009 and 2010, their deaths exceeded those of combat troops in Iraq.

Even when the contractors are American, their deaths seldom make much of a ripple in the news media at home; dead foreign contractors (an increasing proportion of the overall force) are not mentioned at all, unless they are killed alongside one or more Americans. Schooner believes that contractor casualties skew public opinion, that these wars seem less costly because so many allegedly profit-oriented "mercenaries" are dying in place of idealistic patriots in uniform.

To Pitts, contractors are soldiers, pure and simple. In earlier wars, they would have simply been called "support units," and he adds that no army can function without them: the truck drivers, the cooks and spud-shavers, the construction teams, interpreters and postal service.

Pitts recalls that after the First Gulf War, as a cost-cutting move, the Pentagon deemed it wise to disband a great many of these units. "We didn't need them in peacetime, and if we had a conflict, then we could just contract them out and then use them while we needed them and it would save us a lot of money," he says. "That was all fine and dandy as long as it worked the way they planned it, but now here we are in this long, drawn-out guerrilla war where the supply lines are the main target. We're stuck [with a half-private army]. We could not function overseas without the contractors."

They are also heroes, Pitts believes. "There's never been a report of our supply lines being broken because the contractors wouldn't go out and risk being blown up. They have been brave beyond belief — they should get a chest full of medals every time they go outside the wire."
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Pitts has championed the cause of contractors beyond courtrooms to the floor of the United States Congress, where he was invited to address the House Oversight Reform Committee, proposing a potential solution to AIG's foot-dragging and slow paying.

"Let's say the insurance company has a frivolous defense," he says. You always hear about frivolous cases, right? But let's say the insurance company has a frivolous defense, or no defense. I mean, they can just shamefacedly say, 'Well, we are just denying the case,' and then just not do anything, like they did with the guy living in his car who got hit by the mortar.

"At the end of the day, all the judge can make them do is what they should have done to begin with," he continues. "There's no penalty. There's interest, but it's at short-term U.S. Treasury rates, which are .02 percent or something. So the only downside for them just drawing these cases out and just using the money in the meantime — while you're suffering, they're getting interest and dividends on your money, right? The only downside is that they have to pay lawyers for their time in holding them down and making them pay."

And so he proposed to Congress his solution: "If there's a frivolous defense, why can't you let the judge tack on a 15 percent penalty or something to hit them in the pocketbook?"

Perhaps on the grounds of unnecessary pain and suffering. Both Boiles and Enzweiler claimed that AIG's intransigence exacerbated their conditions. Boiles said that had AIG sprung for either putting him in traction for a time or giving him an epidural steroid shot, he might never have needed surgery on his disk, and he would have been spared many, many months of agonizing pain.

The surgery was in large part a success, he says now. "That relieved a lot of pain," he says. "I've still got a lot of pain down the back of my leg and into my foot, but a lot of it is relieved." Since he now takes hydrocodone three times a day to deal with that pain, he can no longer get a commercial driver's license. His trucking days are over, so it's a good thing he's now getting his disability pension.

As is Enzweiler. Even so, he seems likely to carry his grudge against AIG to the grave. "This was a gut-wrenching, horrible, horrible thing to go through. In my opinion, it only exacerbated whatever conditions I may have.

"As a Christian man, I pray that one day I will have peace, but right now I don't."

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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1 comments
gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Really dislike AIG, they owe the taxpayers/Uncle Sam billions but seem to have no problem whatsoever in spending tens of thousands of dollars to put their logo in what appears to be neon on their building with a helicopter no less.  Very necessary my arse...

 
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