A recent court decision, which is being appealed, has become an unequivocal example of a case that sets forth the standard for proving that “delayed onset” Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims are compensable. In many cases, civilian contractors returning from war zones do not understand that they have a “mental condition or injury.” including PTSD. These contractors may experience a variety of indescribable symptoms such as: nightmares about the war hazards they experienced while overseas, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, hypervigilance, crowd avoidance, flashbacks, uncontrollable anger, and so forth – but they don’t realize the source or that they need medical care. Others realize something isn’t quite right, but they are afraid to admit it or seek help due to the stigma associated with psychological illnesses.
Some PTSD Cases Take Time to Properly Diagnose
At some point, either through a spouse, friend, or family member, these civilian contractors have been urged to “seek help.” Those that have V.A. benefits may seek help through the V.A., while others seek help through therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists. Many times, it takes months or years before the civilian contractor learns that he has a mental health “diagnosis” that is related to his experiences overseas. Thereafter, it may take months to find out about the Defense Base Act (DBA) and to find a DBA attorney; those specialized attorneys are few and far between. Once the civilian contractor finds a DBA attorney, the attorney files a claim on his behalf, and in most, if not all cases, that claim is denied by the Employer/Carrier because it was not “timely filed.” These claims are known as “delayed onset” cases.
Medical Evidence Supports “Delayed Onset” Cases
The example above happened to civilian contractor Abdulraouf Abdelmeged, a linguist/translator, who was embedded with American and coalition forces in Iraq. He was belatedly diagnosed with a psychological injury and eventually filed a claim. The Administrative Law Judge found in his favor and awarded him compensation and medical benefits. The Employer/Carrier, however, appealed, and the appellate court affirmed part of the order, but vacated another part and sent it back to the Judge with further instructions. Specifically, the Judge was ordered to explain how he determined that Mr. Abdelmeged was entitled to benefits as of a certain date in 2009.
The Judge then specifically addressed the events that Mr. Abdelmeged incurred – a constant barrage of tragic events, such as specific incidents showing that he was regularly exposed to shootings and explosions. The Judge then found that Mr. Abdelmeged credibly testified that once he returned to the U.S., he suffered the symptoms described above, including nightmares, lack of sleep, etc. The Judge next addressed the medical evidence; one physician testified that Mr. Abdelmeged’s work-related PTSD rendered him incapable of returning to work since 2009, whereas another physician said that he could return to work as a linguist.
The Judge found that Mr. Abdelmeged was unaware of his condition until 2011, but he “certainly exhibited” symptoms of PTSD by the time he returned to the U.S. in 2009. The Judge noted that while Mr. Abdelmeged believed, in 2009, that he was capable of returning to work, those beliefs were unreasonable given his psychological injury and his lack of self-awareness of his psychological state. The Judge rationally concluded that the passage of two years in Mr. Abdelmeged’s seeking treatment for his psychological condition “was caused by his inability to be self-aware of his own mental health,” quoting a physician who testified that not all those with mental illness seek treatment for a variety of reasons – lack of self-awareness and/or resources, the stigma attached to such an illness, and an individual’s stoicism.
Once again, the Judge found in favor of Mr. Abdelmeged and awarded benefits back to 2009. The Employer/Carrier, again, has appealed that decision.
“Delayed Onset” Claims Are Real
If you are a civilian contractor who believes you have suffered a physical or mental illness or PTSD condition as a result of your work overseas, you may have a valid claim despite the length of time since you last worked overseas. As you can see, “delayed onset” claims are real, and you are not alone. The experienced Defense Base Act attorneys at RITE law have handled numerous PTSD-related DBA cases over the years and have an understanding and appreciation for what those affected by psychological issues may be experiencing. For a free consultation, contact them today by phone at 904-500-7483, via their website at https://www.rite4justice.com/.