CBS Evening News and ABC Nightline are both working stories about wounded civilian contractors fighting for insurance coverage from their employers.
It’s a very rich story.
The Pentagon’s privatizing of military support services may or may not save money, it may or may not be more efficient, but it does privatize the human toll of war. And privatizing the human toll, also hides it.
Civilians are coming home by the thousands with injuries sustained in Iraq. Whenever the Pentagon and the news media report US casualties, only military deaths are noted. The 500 dead civilians (or more)* working under US contractors are ignored. Most are doing jobs the Army once did. (For a feel of contractor casualties, see Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.)
The story of privatizing the military is also a nightmare for many civilians serving in Iraq. A good number of them may be supporters of the war, but they went because they also were making good money — and, as President Bush told them in May 2003, “major combat is over.”
(Hmmm, let’s see. What will it be?…. Drive a flatbead truck in East Texas for $30,000 a year or a semi n Iraq for an advertised $100,000 or more MOSTLY TAX FREE with the extra feel-good wage of hauling democracy and freedom for the downtrodden?… Do the math.)
Thousands of contractors are suffering from battle fatigue — once known as soldier’s heart and now even more widely known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Veterans struggled with the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs for years to get the acknowledgement and support for the debilitating condition. PTSD is one reason for the huge homeless problem among Vietnam vets.
Civilian contractors now are fighting the same battle — not to mention the struggle to get coverage and disability benefits for physical injury.
The first story to tackle the issue of civilians fighting for their insurance payments, Adding Insult to Injury, appeared under my byline. Just one of many stories framed by me that set the tone for major news organizations to follow. (Anytime you guys want to send a check or share some credit, please do.)
My understanding is that both CBS and ABC are relying heavily on two fabulously strong sources for their insurance angles: Jan Crowder and Houston attorney Gary Pitts.
Jana runs several Web sites to help support contractors working in Iraq and their families, most notably Contractors in Iraq. Gary Pitts represents dozens of clients suing companies for their coverage. Jana, me and CorpWatch regularly refer potential clients to him.
While ABC and CBS will undoubtedly focus on KBR truck drivers (some riveting amateur video of insurgent attacks shot by truckers is available — and in the hands of CBS), there are plenty of other companies in the same pickle, including Titan, which provides translators to the Army in Iraq.
Check out The San Diego Union’s excellent series on the issue.
*Knight Ridder ran the best story on civilian contractor casualties in Iraq. The November 1 story finds:
428 civilian contractors had been killed in Iraq and another 3,963 were injured, according to Department of Labor insurance-claims statistics.
Reporter Seth Bornstein told me at the time he wrote the story that the numbers had already climbed to 524 dead, according to his sources, but not yet recorded. That was eight months ago.
It is widely believed by contractors on the ground in Iraq that all casualties and injuries fail to be reported, especially among the low-paid South Asians brought in under US-funded subcontractors.