As the United States makes good on its pledge to leave Afghanistan, some returning contractors are likely to bring injuries home with them. Civilian injuries hit record levels in Afghanistan during the first half of 2021 as the United States prepared to withdraw its military forces. The injury rate escalated in recent months as the withdrawal began in earnest.

Civilian workers who worked on military bases in Afghanistan and those who worked for employers that provided services to the military or other US agencies may be entitled to compensation for injuries they sustained in Afghanistan. Federal law requires covered employers to compensate employees for injuries that occur during transportation to and from a place of employment when that transportation is provided by an employer or the United States. Employees who were injured while being transported from Afghanistan or during employment before they left Afghanistan may be entitled to workers’ compensation.

Workers’ compensation coverage is required by the Defense Base Act (DBA). In many respects, DBA benefits can be better than state workers’ compensation benefits.

Who Is Covered by the Defense Base Act?

The DBA covers civilians who:

1. work for a private employer on a defense base,
2. work outside the United States on contracts (such as construction or service contracts) with a US government agency that relate to national defense,
3. work outside the United States on certain Foreign Assistance contracts, usually involving the sale of military weapons, materials, or goods to American allies, or
4. work for a private US employer that provides certain services for the benefit of the Armed Forces, such as the USO.

A defense base is any land owned or occupied by the United States for military purposes that are outside the continental United States.

What Injuries Are Covered by the Defense Base Act

Any work-related injury or death is covered. An injury is regarded as work-related if it:

1. arises out of and in the course of employment; or
2. in some cases, occurs within a “zone of danger” even if the injury did not occur during work hours or during the performance of job duties.

In most cases, an injury is covered regardless of who was at fault for the accident that caused it. Intentional self-inflicted injuries are not covered. A worker who starts a fight at work and is injured in the brawl might not be covered, although a worker who did not cause the fight is more likely to be covered. 

Coverage is rarely in doubt when the injury is obviously caused by work. A fall from a ladder, an electrical shock, or a bodily injury caused by a collision will almost always be covered if the injury victim was working at the time of the accident.

Injury victims should never assume they are not covered by the DBA. Coverage is broad for injuries that occur while an employee is “on the job.” Under some circumstances, injuries are covered even if they are not related to the performance of work. It is always prudent to ask a Defense Base Act lawyer whether compensation might be available for an injury that occurred in Afghanistan during employment by the military, a US government agency, or a military contractor.

Are Injuries Covered After My Return to the US?

Notice of the injury must usually be given to an employer in writing within 30 days of the injury’s occurrence. If you returned to the US within that 30-day window, you should give your employer notice before the 30 days expires. You can contact our law firm if you need assistance obtaining the form that is usually used to give notice.

In many cases, injury victims have more than 30 days to give written notice. When an employer is aware of the injury or when an injury victim has a good reason (such as an emergency evacuation from Afghanistan) for failing to meet the deadline, a late notice might be excused. It makes sense to get legal advice from a DBA lawyer even if more than 30 days have passed since the injury date.

The 30-day period begins when the employee becomes aware of the injury. While some injuries are obvious when they occur, others are not. For example, claims may result from work-related chemical exposure. Those exposures often have a cumulative effect. Workers might not realize they are injured until they begin to experience symptoms of an illness or disability. It is advisable to give notice as soon as a worker realizes that disease symptoms might be related to something that happened while working overseas in covered employment.

Are Psychological Injuries Covered?

A psychological injury, such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), may be covered by the DBA. Psychological injuries are often the kind of injuries that do not result in an immediate onset of symptoms. Nor is it easy to distinguish the ordinary stress or fear that accompanies work in a war zone from a compensable psychological injury. For those reasons, it is not always easy to identify a particular event that caused the injury or to give notice within 30 days of that event.

Insurers usually deny claims for PTSD and other psychological injuries. A worker who is diagnosed with PTSD after returning from Afghanistan will usually benefit from legal assistance in pursuing compensation. Injuries like PTSD have very specific criteria that need to be documented in medical records before compensation will be available. It is useful to make sure that medical records are complete and that a diagnosis is well documented before making a claim for a psychological injury.

DBA Lawyers Can Help Workers Returning from Afghanistan

Our team of experienced DBA lawyers understands the difficulties faced by workers who are injured overseas. We offer a caring and compassionate representation of injury victims who were injured on a defense base or while working for a military contractor in Afghanistan.

Dealing with insurance companies can be frustrating. Our dedicated lawyer helps ease the burden of injury victims by negotiating with insurers on their behalf and by gathering and presenting evidence in support of their claims.