I have been an injury trial attorney for over 19 years. I enjoy working for injured contractors, and as an Army Ranger Veteran, fighting insurance companies for the rights of my clients. Over the years I have settled many millions in DBA claims. Below are 10 tips that will help injured contractors with their claims and hopefully answer some questions about the Defense Base Act.
1. You do not have to be actually physically working at the time of your injury for the Defense Base Act to apply if you are deployed to a war zone, like Iraq, Syria, Somalia or Afghanistan. For example, you are covered if you slip in a shower, trip over river rock, injure yourself while exercising doing PT, or while in your quarters. Working in a war zone or a zone of special danger, you are covered 24 hours. As soon as possible after your injury, document the event – make notes, list witness names and telephone numbers, and take photographs and retain these until you have spoken with a Defense Base Act attorney.
2. As soon as you are injured, immediately report the injury to your supervisor. I suggest that you inform your supervisor in person if you can, but also e-mail or fax him/her and keep a copy of the e-mail or fax. This way there can be no dispute by the insurance company that you indeed notified your employer.
3. Keep track of all your wage records, including all bonuses. If you have not done so prior to being injured, gather all your wage records immediately for at least the 52 weeks prior to your injury.
4. Make sure you treat with the doctor of your choosing. Do not treat with a doctor recommended by the insurance company or on a list provided by the insurance company. You are entitled to the doctor of your choice. I would suggest going to the best doctor you can find close to your home. Look for doctors who are board-certified. When you meet with your doctor make sure he/she knows what it means to be working in war zones if that is where you were stationed. Most U.S. doctors have no clue about what it means to work in such areas. As a Veteran of the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, I know what it is like to wear body armor other gear, you know how heavy such equipment is, however, your doctor does not. When they hear “body armor” they believe it is the thin type vests that police officers wear under short-sleeve shirts. That is not the case. They also do not know that you work 6-7 days/week. I oftentimes tell clients to bring photographs of what they must wear and carry overseas (body armor, vests, water, weapons, packs, medical kits, ammunition, Kevlar helmets, etc.). Some clients have brought body armor to show the doctors. This is important information for your doctor to know.
5. Make a list of all who witnessed your injury. Include his or her home and cellular numbers, addresses and e-mails. It is not uncommon to have difficulty finding these witnesses once you are back in the U.S.
6. Keep a diary of all the medical treatment you received overseas before returning home, including the names of each hospital and doctor, and a summary of the treatment received.
7. Obtain copies of all medical records from all overseas medical providers as well as copies of any x-rays, MRIs, etc. It is not easy to obtain these records overseas, especially from foreign hospitals.
8. Be truthful and upfront with your doctors. Your claim may be dismissed if the Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge finds that you have lied. Having a previous injury does not mean that your employer is not responsible for your injury. They are responsible even if the injury overseas exacerbated a previous injury. Explain to your doctor the type of work you did overseas, that you must wear body armor, carry weapons, etc. Most doctors do not understand the type of work you did overseas.
9. Do not allow the insurance company’s “nurse case manager” to be in the examining room when you are being treated by your physician. Tell them to wait in the waiting room. Remember, they are paid by the insurance company. They are not hired by the insurance company to help you. Rest assured, doctors don’t want insurance company folks in medical appointments with their patients; however, it is up to you to make sure they do not attend medical appointments.
10. Contact an attorney, or have a family member contact an attorney, as soon as you are injured for free legal advice. Attorneys practicing in Defense Base Act claims represent military contractors throughout the U.S. You may reach me 24 hours/day.