THE BLOG
05/25/2010 01:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Unknown Casualties

At the risk of belaboring the obvious we should remember that being a private military or security contractor can be a dangerous job. You can be wounded or killed, even if you are not carrying a gun.

As private contractor casualties are not reported by the Defense Department and merit just the briefest of notices in local hometown newspapers such casualties are largely off the radar screen for most people.

But the numbers are hardly trivial. Consider the latest version of a report on the Defense Base Act (DBA), put out by the Congressional Research Service. The DBA essentially requires that many federal government contractors and subcontractors provide workers' compensation insurance for their employees who work outside of the United States.

As the U.S. military has increased operations in Iraq, the size of the DBA program has grown. Between September 2001 and the end of December 2009, the DBA has processed 55,988 cases of covered injuries or deaths. Of these, 27,820 or 49.7% involved no lost work time on the part of the employee. During this period, the DBA has processed 1,987 cases involving the death of a covered employee.

Of these, 1,459 or 73.4% occurred in Iraq and 289 or 14.5% occurred in Afghanistan. Of the 289 deaths in Afghanistan, 100 occurred during the final six months of 2009. Contractor operations in Iraq and Afghanistan account for 87.9% of all covered contractor deaths during this period. Nearly $200 million in cash and medical benefits were paid to DBA claimants in 2008.

During this same period, there were 4,248 American military deaths in Iraq and 848 American military deaths in Afghanistan. So contractor fatalities were 38 percent of regular military forces

Note that many of the casualties were among people who did not do security work. Just over 40% of all injury and death cases covered by the DBA during this period involved employees working for Service Employers International Inc., an indirect subsidiary of KBR. Service Employers International Inc. was the employer of record for 22,921 total cases including 107 death cases between September 2001 and the end of December 2009.

Prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (which, by the way, will be renamed Operation New Dawn. effective September 1) in 2003, DBA benefits were paid to several hundred claimants per year. OIF was accompanied by an increase in the number of DBA cases and the total amount spent on DBA claims. The DBA caseload increased more than six-fold between 2004 and 2007, with 2007 having the largest caseload of the entire period. The average amount of compensation and medical benefits paid per claim in 2007, however, was at the lowest level since 2003. The number of DBA payments dropped in 2008, but the average benefits per case rose to the 2006 level.

The Department of Labor reports that the increase in cases in 2007 was due, in part, to greater compliance efforts that resulted in firms reporting a greater number of claims that involved only minor medical care and no lost work time.

For detail scroll down the CRS report to page four to see Table 2 "Total Defense Base Act Payments, 1997 to 2008" and Table 3 "Total Defense Base Act Cases, by Severity of Injury September 1, 2001 through December 31, 2009."