PTSD Claims Under the Defense Base Act:
The Defense Base Act (DBA) serves as a critical safety net for civilian employees working overseas on U.S. military bases, defense contracts, and public works projects. While this federal law provides essential benefits for workers injured or killed during their assignments, it also covers the often less visible, yet equally significant, psychological injuries such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In this article, I will explore the nuances of PTSD claims under the Defense Base Act and shed light on the challenges and opportunities faced by workers suffering with PTSD.
Understanding the Defense Base Act
The Defense Base Act is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) and applies to both U.S. and foreign national employees working on defense contracts outside the United States. The Defense Base Act mandates that employers provide workers’ compensation benefits (DBA) to their employees, including medical treatment, psychological treatment, and wage replacement in the event of illness, injury, or death arising out of their overseas employment.
PTSD as a Covered Condition
PTSD, characterized by severe psychological distress and trauma-related symptoms, is increasingly recognized as a legitimate and compensable condition under the DBA. The act’s definition of injury encompasses not only physical harm but also mental health conditions, making it possible for employees suffering from PTSD to file claims for benefits under the Defense Base Act.
Challenges in DBA PTSD Claims
- Establishing Causation: One of the foremost challenges in DBA PTSD claims is establishing a direct connection between the traumatic incident and the development of PTSD. Unlike physical injuries that often have readily visible evidence, PTSD may not manifest immediately, and proving the link can be complex.
- Timely Reporting: Under the DBA, injured contractors must promptly report their injuries to their employers. In the case of PTSD, it can take time for symptoms to surface, which may lead to delays in reporting. However, timely reporting is important in securing DBA benefits.
- Pre-existing Conditions: Defense contractors often require medical and psychological evaluations before deployment. Pre-existing mental health conditions could complicate claims, as it may be challenging to attribute the PTSD, or worsening of PTSD, to the work environment.
- DBA Psychological Evaluation: Proving the presence and severity of PTSD often involves psychological evaluations and expert testimony. These evaluations can be invasive and emotionally taxing for the injured worker. I suggest that my clients seek out a skilled board-certified psychiatrist near their homes. Under the DBA, injured workers are entitled to a physician of their choice.
Steps to Navigate PTSD Claims
- Seek Immediate Psychiatric Help: If you experience symptoms of PTSD, it is crucial to seek medical/psychiatric attention promptly. This not only ensures proper care but also establishes a medical record documenting the condition. Again, look for a board-certified psychiatrist near your home.
- Report the Incident: Inform your employer about the traumatic incident as soon as possible. Even if you do not immediately recognize the signs of PTSD, reporting the incident creates a paper trail that may be useful in the DBA claim process.
- Consult a Defense Base Act Attorney: Given the complexities of PTSD claims under the DBA, consulting with an experienced DBA attorney is advisable. A DBA lawyer can guide you through the DBA process, help gather evidence, and represent your interests. Oftentimes, DBA insurance carriers, such as Gallagher Bassett, Starr Indemnity, Broadspire, ESIS, AIG, and others will set you up for a psychiatric independent medical evaluation. It is important that you first speak with a DBA lawyer before agreeing to a psychiatric IME. Your DBA lawyer should take the time to explain to you in detail PTSD Claims under the Defense Base Act
- Document Your Condition: Maintain a detailed record of your symptoms, medical and psychiatric appointments, and any relevant correspondence with your employer or insurance company. This documentation will be invaluable in supporting your claim.
- Seek Psychological Evaluation: Undergo a psychological evaluation with a board-certified psychiatrist to assess the severity of your PTSD. Be open and honest with your psychiatrist to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
- File Your DBA PTSD Claim: With the assistance of your DBA attorney, submit your claim to the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). Ensure that all required documentation is included.
- Be Persistent and Patient: PTSD claims can be met with resistance, but persistence and patience are important.
Benefits for PTSD Claims under the Defense Base Act
Under the DBA, employees who successfully establish their PTSD claims are entitled to various benefits, including:
- Medical/Psychiatric Treatment: Coverage for necessary medical and psychological treatment related to PTSD.
- Wage Replacement: Compensation for lost wages due to the inability to work while receiving treatment and unable to return to your preinjury employment.
PTSD claims under the Defense Base Act are a critical avenue of support for civilian employees who endure traumatic experiences while working overseas under U.S. Government contracts. While navigating the complexities of these DBA claims can be challenging, it is essential to recognize that help is available. Seeking prompt psychiatric attention, documenting your
condition, and enlisting the assistance of a DBA lawyer experienced with PTSD claims is important. The Defense Base Act stands as a vital safeguard for those who serve our nation overseas under U.S. government contracts, ensuring that their mental health is given the same consideration as physical injuries in the pursuit of justice and healing.
For more information, contact DBA lawyer Tim Nies, at 772-283-8712 day or night or contact us via our contact form. DBA attorney Tim Nies, an Army Ranger Veteran, and an attorney since 2001. He is known for fighting for the rights of his injured government contractors throughout the U.S. and worldwide at the DOL level, OALJ level, and during DBA settlement discussions and DBA mediations.